A musical about Donald Trump: hugely topical, thematically intriguing, and imbued with the promise of some real comedy gold. Old Sole’s latest offering, Great Again, playing at the Vault Festival this winter, is written by Isla van Tricht, a writer determined to explore the multitude of potential reasons why some ordinary people in America were moved to vote for the most notorious, unlikely presidential candidate of all time. Van Tricht does not take this decision lightly; her central protagonists (and avid Trump supporters) include a woman, a homosexual, and a Black man. These plucky individuals, inherently likeable in and of themselves, clearly have their work cut out to keep themselves convinced that through Trump they can ‘make America great again’, let alone cajole others into joining the quest for their visionary future.
Our protagonists are Kelsey (Eleanor Jackson) and Josh (Jacob Bradford), college drop-outs from Beavercreek, Ohio, who connect over their mutual frustration at not being ‘heard’ by their parents. These young adults are tired of being treated like children, of being told what to do, and what to think. Jumping on the Trumpmobile presents a solution: rebelling against their small, liberal community instils a sense of identity and individualism. Kelsey and Josh feel their voice matters, that they are a part of history, bandying together with other, like-minded individuals – like outlaws. It’s sad, really; their infantile excitement is not rooted in Trump and his policies, but in themselves, how they feel, and what they are escaping from. The band of brothers they meet along the way, including John (Andy Umerah), seems to cement their commitment to ‘the cause’, whatever that cause is, providing fellowship and support in times of persecution.
What is striking is the way that most of these characters are lonely, oppressed, and in need of a dream, a vision, where their idealism serves as an antidote to their depressing realism. They are depicted as following Trump with a naive enthusiasm that borders on zealous; he is a God, and Trumpism is a religion.
Within this bubble of protection, Trump can do no wrong, and one can see how stealthily the shark-hating shark played the game, painting himself as an underdog, who may ‘jestingly’ bark at other underdogs (women, homosexuals, Mexicans, Muslims etc) but ultimately claims to have their back. Perhaps people just need to believe in something, in change, and to regain hope for a better future. It is no coincidence that the most powerful song in the play is delivered by Leonard (Alex McMorran), an ordinary, blue-collar worker, voting for Trump in a last, exasperated bid to protect both his working rights and the safety of his family.
Yet whilst Trump remains at the heart of this production, it is the friendship between Kelsey and Josh that provides much of the substance of the play. Unfortunately, it is difficult to buy into the rocky relationship between the two, given the childish, melodramatic reaction from Josh whenever Kelsey voices Trouts (Trump doubts). Perhaps this is the point: if you follow something so fervently, you cannot fathom the idea that someone close to you may not be intrinsically aligned with your core values. Alas this black-and-white worldview is infantile and twee, and their relationship ups-and-downs became laborious and uninteresting, unnecessarily distracting from the truly engaging issue of the piece: why does Kelsey doubt in the first place?
Eleanor Jackson as Kelsey is superb; her gorgeous voice is matched by a commitment to her role and an open heart that allows us to peek inside. Jacob Bradford delivers a good dose of awkwardness and introversion that remains on the right side of farce, and the rest of the cast work well as a tight-knit ensemble, jumping in and out of roles as required. The music is fun, if not quite catchy enough to hum on the way home, and the set (wooden boxes, white picket fence) is nice and adaptable. Joseph Cunningham’s direction makes good use of the space, with actors frequently appearing in amongst the audience.
But the real star of this show, naturally, is the unseen Trump. Great Again leaves the audience perhaps more informed on the intricacies of his election, but it is a double-edged sword for many. Whilst one hopes for change for these underrepresented individuals, Great Again questions how far this goal will be realised. And whilst this production was worthy of applause, it is perhaps difficult to cheer such an uncertain future – a future that may, this show suggests, be filled with regret.
Review by Amy Stow
It’s summer 2016 in Beavercreek, Ohio. Josh and Kelsey are young conservatives surrounded and silenced by a sea of liberal friends and family. But politics is changing and a storm of excitement and controversy swirls around a uniquely unlikely candidate: Donald Trump. When the prospect arises to join the Trump campaign trail, Kelsey and Josh grab the opportunity to make their voices heard and chase the chance for change.
Through rallies, canvassing and catchy chorus numbers, they push for the notion of a nation that belongs to them – a nation for the forgotten America. Along the road of their fight for something new, Kelsey and Josh become close friends. However, when doubt, opposition and fanaticism creep in, will their attempt to unite a nation build a wall between them? This is a journey that will change America as they know it.
Cast:Kelsey – Eleanor Jackson
Josh – Jacob Bradford
John – Andy Umerah
Leonard – Alex McMorran
Mom – Rosie Ward
Moma – Natasha Zacher
Creatives: Writer Isla van Tricht
Composer Guy Woolf
Director Joseph Cunningham
Musical Director Lauren Ronan
Producer Rebecca Gwyther
Producer Jon Parry
Producer James Neale
GREAT AGAIN: THE MUSICAL
A new musical by Isla van Tricht & Guy Woolf
Presented by Old Sole Theatre Company
VAULT Festival 2018
24 – 28 January 2018