In trying to bring two of the most magnetic and divisive political personalities of their time to the stage, neither of these character comedies can be accused of taking the easy road. Both, at least, reach for something distinctive and definitive.
Star Rating: ***
Sweet Grassmarket (Venue 18)
Star rating: **
Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)
Simon Jay’s one-man Trumpageddon is the funnier of the pair, relying on an impersonation of the controversial Republican nominee for US President which is crudely hewn but highly effective. Jay is suited, wearing a halo of orange facepaint, and every time a joke comes up short or he wants to draw out one of the plentiful laughs, he hunches his shoulders and puffs out his face into a perfectly constipated exaggeration of Trump’s shrug. “Feel free to chip in, as long as you don’t say anything I disagree with,” he charms, before justifying his plan for a Mexican wall (or “freedom divider”) and introducing us to his wife Malaria (sic) and her badly-spliced political speeches from history.
It’s a rough-around-the-edges show, and not always smoothly executed, particularly in more serious imagined flashbacks to Trump’s childhood. Yet Jay expertly surfs a wave of disdain for political correctness which allows him to flirt with and insult his audience (his demand for questions reveals a confident and sometimes brutal ad-libbing ability) while perfectly chiming with the tone of Trump’s character and campaign.
The show succeeds on the strength of this character inhabitation in a manner which writer Tom Crawshaw and director Yaz Al-Shaater’s Boris: World King doesn’t quite pull off. Both pieces are similar in intent and madcap execution, but David Benson (a mighty Fringe presence over the years) sometimes eschews the essential Borisness of the current UK Foreign Secretary in favour of “bumbling posh bloke in a blond wig”.
It’s a spirited update of last year’s original, and Joanna Bending is strong in the demanding role of all-purpose comedy foil, but the sense is of something denied lightness by over-complication. The show flits between mild-mannered Radio 4 political comedy, slapstick, farce, straight-faced segments of Greek tragedy and passages of audience interaction, yet adding sections where the show deliberately appears to come off the rails fails to mimic the seat-of-the-pants success/calamity quality of Johnson’s own career.
Trumpageddon until 28 August; today 1:05pm. Boris: World King until 29 August; today 5:40pm