Asian non-binary actor explains why they were worried about playing Donald Trump

Trump L'Oeil. (Supplied)

Trump L’Oeil: A Musical is the extremely queer drag cabaret bringing a new and surrealist perspective to the Trump administration.

Directed by Oli Savage, the titular character is played by Vivek Sharma, a non-binary South Asian person who is bringing Donald Trump to life on the stage. 

Following a successful New York run, the show has found a new cast and fresh audience in London, using comedy and campiness to take the audience on a journey of American politics.

The musical written by Henry Parkman Biggs was first picked up by Savage in July, who told PinkNews his first impressions were that it was “absolutely bonkers”.

While Sharma admitted they were not in the typical casting bracket for someone to play Donald Trump, they remember thinking “oh my god, that was so much fun” when they first auditioned. 

Vivek Sharma as Donald Trump. (Supplied)

Vivek Sharma as Donald Trump. (Nick Brittain)

The story follows Trump’s time in office, looking at his own behaviour and that of others. Alongside Trump, we have Ivanka (Charlotte Barnes), Banon (Kyle Copeland), McCain (Curtis Medley), Demi the democrat (Tish Weinman) and Rip the republican (Michael Mather). 

For Sharma, it was Rip and Demi’s plotline that was the most impactful. “Rip is Republican, and Demi is a drag queen and Democrat.” Sharma explains: “Over the backdrop of the Trump era administration they develop a relationship and it’s about what happens between two people who are from two politically opposite sides.”

For both Savage and Sharma, their plot reflected how bigger political issues affect everyday relationships and you can’t claim to “love someone” if you vote against their interests. 

The show in general, while incredibly queer, is more than that according to Savage. “It’s creating space and opportunity for people who were victimised and subjugated by the Trump administration to have fun and reclaim power,” he says. 

He continues: “My partner’s really into country music and country music is really interesting to me, because it’s so gay. It feels gay because it’s so performatively heterosexual that it almost loops around and becomes queer.

“You can apply that logic to Trump. His heterosexuality is so performed and so extreme, it appears to me to be so fragile. It makes it very easy to just tip it over the edge and make it queer and funny.”

Trump L'Oeil. (Supplied)

Trump L’Oeil. (Nick Brittain)

Although Sharma was initially worried about playing Trump, when they realised it would be a “parody of heterosexuality”, the job became easier. 

“I wanted to have bits of Trump’s mannerisms in there,” they say. “But then so much of the show is not written in his voice. It’s taking what he says and making it hyperbolic.”

Over the past few months queer theatre has been increasingly under attack with The Globe’s I, Joan receiving vitriolic criticism for featuring a non-binary perspective and Abigail Thorn’s The Prince increasing security for safety. 

Speaking about their response to any potential backlash, Savage said: “The heteronormative patriarchy has been sitting around for long enough and it’s well time that it was dismantled. 

“Whether or not there was backlash, I definitely haven’t been paying attention.”

“This is about having fun and reclaiming joy for people that have been historically and systematically marginalised by the powers that be.”

Sharma added that in a way, the queerness of the show has helped sell it to the public. “I didn’t know how to get people to come to a show where I was like, ‘It’s about Trump.’ But when I said it’s a queer cabaret musical? Now we’re talking.”

The only time Sharma felt concerned was when one ad for the show had comments from disgruntled Republicans.

“There was a moment I was like, ‘Oh, god, what are they gonna do? Are they gonna start picketing shows if they find out that there’s a brown Trump?’ I don’t know if they ever found out.”

Trump L'Oeil. (Supplied)

Trump L’Oeil. (Nick Brittain)

Although security was needed for the New York run, Savage believes British theatre is “fairly safe”.

“I’m not necessarily worried there’s going to be violence against us. I think there is a fairly strong tradition of drag and queer performance in the UK. Maybe I should have felt scared but we’re yet to have any violent or bigoted responses,” he said. 

As to whether a show about Trump and the US has any relevance to the UK today, Sharma, who is Australian, said it should connect with people in all three countries.

“There was a period of time pretty recently,” they say, “where all three countries had disgusting right wing leaders who didn’t care about women, LGBT people, First Nations people, people of colour and so on. 

“If anything is added into it, maybe mentions of the Murdoch media, because I think that is something that would resonate with people in the UK. We know that’s interfering with our politics here.”

However, at the end of the day, for Savage, the show is simply about having fun and he hopes it will appeal to the British sense of humour. “It’s a very British show in terms of the way it looks at and takes the p**s out of Trump,” he concluded.
Trump L’Oeil: A Musical is running until 2 October in Upstairs at The Gatehouse, Highgate Village. Tickets are available here.