The campaign trail’s taken Donald Trump to some pretty obscure places; in this case, to an anonymous room in an Edinburgh hotel. He’s hosting a press conference, sharing a few off-the-cuff opinions, and taking questions from anyone who dares to ask them. The real man at the lectern is actor Simon Jay, whose performance is unashamedly comedic – but alarmingly believable too.
I can’t say whether Jay’s got the genuine Trump nailed, but he certainly embodies the image of Trump we’ve picked up from the media. He’s perfected that goofy wide-lipped smile, and he has all the mannerisms we recognise from TV – the faces, the gestures, the orange skin tone. For political geeks, there are more subtle references to look out for too; a lot of the humour is slow-burn, based on recycling some of Trump’s most notorious quotations into new and entertaining forms.
Much of the hour is taken up by an audience Q&A, which Jay proves commendably well-prepared for. On the day I attended, a good chunk of the crowd was American, and they competed to catch ‘Trump’ out with detailed questions on real-world politics; Jay was ready for all of them, neatly turning his answers back towards richer veins of humour. I’m sure some of his material is pre-prepared, but he improvised skilfully when things got more left-field, and an interactive demonstration of ‘Trumponomics’ made a genuine point in a thoroughly engaging way.
At times, though, the mask slips, and the real liberal-leaning Simon Jay peeks through – disturbing the illusion he’s worked so hard to create. ‘Trump’ engages in an extended, uncharacteristic apology before launching into a proposal for an anti-Muslim alarm (a joke that nobody with the slightest understanding of satire could possibly find offensive). And there’s another problem here, a predictable but thorny one: a couple of the audience were visibly from groups the real Donald Trump has been known to insult. Jay stayed well away from those topic areas, but the effect was still uncomfortable. For me, it lent a cowardly edge to the lines involving minorities who weren’t obviously represented in the room.
Overall – and profoundly ironically – Trumpageddon is rather middle-of-the-road: it lacks the sharp bite of true political satire, and it paints Trump more as a comic figure than an extreme or grotesque one. But it’s an entertaining impersonation all the same, and its sell-out run is testament to how perfectly Jay has captured the zeitgeist. Normally, I’d say that it would merit further development and a return next year… but given what that would imply about the upcoming election in the States, I think on this occasion I’ll hold my tongue.