Photo: Danny Kaan

We’ll say this right from the off – we don’t enjoy writing negative reviews. We’re aware the theatre industry has had a difficult few years during the pandemic and coming out the other side, and we know the time and effort that goes into creating these shows. Especially when a piece of theatre is new and queer, we want to champion and promote it – we really wanted to enjoy Trompe L’oeil and recommend it, but we just don’t feel as though we can. This ambitious (perhaps overly so) new musical completely misses the mark.

For starters, it’s not immediately clear, when you’re buying a ticket, what you’ve signed up for – the website advises that “cabaret, musical theatre songs, politics, queer theatre, and circus combine with the trompe l’oeil illusionary art form in this stunning new musical.” At no point is there a mention of the former US president, but make no mistake, what you’ll be signing up for is two hours of Donald Trump: The Musical. It feels like an odd moment to be staging this show – it doesn’t really feel timely enough to be relevant, but it’s not a distant enough memory to be a historical piece. We’re not sure how much appetite there is right now for a comedy where the punchlines are Mike Pence or ‘covfefe’.

The conceit here is that Trump has mistaken the art movement Trompe L’oeil for a movement that is ‘Trump loyal’ – essentially a group of hardcore supporters. It’s a nice enough bit of wordplay, but we’re not entirely convinced it’s a solid foundation for a show. What we essentially have is a fairly straightforward musical about Trump’s presidency, but occasionally with a reference to a Magritte painting. If any of the characters dare utter the word ‘surreal’ they’ll suddenly be transformed into a surrealist artwork, with limbs in every direction. It’s not clear why, nor is it clear why apologising seems to reverse this affliction.

We wouldn’t say this production is completely without redeeming features – the performers are evidently trying really hard to sell the material they’ve been given. Emer Dineen does a commendable job as Trump, successfully capturing many of his mannerisms, and there’s some decent choreography and circus tricks from the ensemble cast. Unfortunately the material they’re working with just isn’t up to scratch – it’s a comedy musical and for the most part the jokes aren’t funny and the songs are forgettable, with occasionally problematic lyrics. There are some reasonable ideas – a song where Trump is trying to tweet, but his keyboard is broken and he has limited vowels at his disposal, is alright – but these are few and far between, and somewhat underdeveloped.

It’s a shame, really, as Trompe L’oeil is not an entirely bad idea – if you’re going to stage Donald Trump: The Musical, this is a novel way of doing it – and there are a couple of clever moments during the show. The cast are evidently doing their best to keep us entertained, but ultimately the show is flawed. We’re big fans of The Other Palace Theatre, and they often take a chance on new queer shows, regularly yielding enjoyable results – but we don’t feel we can recommend this one. It’s weird, confused and sometimes unpleasant – and while we get that surrealist art is often all of those things, they don’t add up to an entertaining night at the theatre.

GAY TIMES gives Trompe L’oeil – 1/5

More information can be found here.