Interview: Blowfish Theatre bring Trump – The Musical to Sheffield
Characters need to have a bit of a journey so Boris is essentially a biography, there’s a nice arc to it. But as far as I can see, Trump’s been a dick since day one.
Calling themselves “the anti-musical theatre”, Sheffield-based drama company Blowfish are no strangers to pushing the boundaries of the medium. Having lampooned the now Foreign Minister in Boris the Musical, they’ve recently found a bigger fish to fry with their upcoming Donald Trump musical heading to the Theatre Deli in May.
Fresh off the back of their Edinburgh and Camden fringe shows, Laurence Peacock (writer) and David Burchhardt (actor) talk Boris, wigs and distilling the essence de Trump.
How did it all start?
L: We made Boris with a tiny bit of debt, we bought a wig, hired a theatre and thought if we can get 50 people in we’ll be fine. I’m just doing it for fun really; you turn up and do this silly thing with really talented people. The company has a lovely sense of comradery – we have to because our ties are personal rather than contractual.
Did things go well straight away?
L: Yeah, it was surprising. We had this preview show for Boris in Doncaster at the Brewery and Tap last September and we just got the audience from the downstairs of the pub. They didn’t want to be there, they didn’t know why they were there and they could leave at any point. So when they liked it we thought ‘okay, maybe we’ve done a show and we can keep doing it.’
D: Before the shows, I go out in character as Boris to bring people in as well; it lets them know they’re in safe hands.
L: Do you think that’s what it does? I think you might just not be able to say no if you’ve got Boris Johnson telling you to go upstairs.
Do people boo you as Boris?
D: Most of the time they like me. With Boris he can get away with a lot, so as an actor I can too. Some have mistaken me for the actual Boris, and people have refused to shake my hand or actively tried to avoid me. We don’t get too many heckles though.
L: No, the real venom is directed towards Michael Gove who regularly gets booed and hissed at.
Do you think someone has told him?
D: Nathalie Bennet, the former Green Party leader, saw us and tweeted Boris himself and in Edinburgh someone’s local MP was Jo Johnson (his brother) so they said they’d tell him – so he’s probably found out.
How would Boris review it?
D: *In Boris’ voice* I think that David Burchhardt chap was jolly good, everyone else was rubbish.
L: I sincerely hope he’s got more important things to worry about.
What’s one of your favourite lines you’ve written or performed?
D: One that always makes me laugh is when Michael Gove says that I (Boris) could oust David Cameron as Prime Minister, and I say: “But how? Dave’s untouchable – he’s won over one and half elections!”
L: Sometimes David or the other actors just do something differently, and I’m on stage all the time so sometimes I just start laughing. There are no walls in our show and we get the audience involved a lot. We have to entertain ourselves if nothing else – we’ve done the show quite a few times! This isn’t a super serious thing and we’re not trying to make you a better person. If you’ve learnt anything, we’ve done wrong.
I feel quite disappointed I didn’t get to see it now.
D: Oh it’ll be back. I want it to be back anyway.
L: If we know 150 people will buy a ticket then we’ll do another Boris show.
How was the transformation into ‘The Donald’ for Trump – The Musical?
D: We try and get as much out of the same wig as possible, just brushed over with more fake tan.
How will you get inside the Trump mindset?
D: I really don’t want to! When I was researching Boris I actually dreamed as Boris, but if that happens with Trump I’m gonna be livid. And he’s 70 odd years old, so there’s the physical aspect too.
L: Boris’s physicality was pretty simple, it’s just shoulders and crotch *makes ape-like arms and bandy legs*.
D: All I know is the jaw has to be forward for Trump.
L: Like a ski jumper.
Everyone has a Trump impression.
L: To do Donald Trump really well is incredibly difficult, but you can get away with it on a simple level very easily.
D: Yeah, I’ve never really done impressions so to speak. With Boris, I thought as long as people recognise it’s Boris and not me trying to be Boris then it’s fine.
L: There’s a Borisness to your performance and there’ll be a Trump essence too. Essence de Trump.
And Laurence, how will you pin that essence down in the writing?
L: I don’t think there is an unchanging constant Trump, so as a writer that’s a difficult thing to get around. Characters need to have a bit of a journey so Boris is essentially a biography, there’s a nice arc to it. But as far as I can see, Trump’s been a dick since day one.
He’s difficult to keep up with too. There’s a reason people don’t make satirical theatre, it’s because things change. So we’re thinking we’ll set it in 2020. It will obviously be a satire but it will be the bigger picture.
Will it turn into a dystopia?
L: It will get a bit dark. There’ll be three strands: Nigel Farage and Britain, Putin, and then America. It’ll be about his position in the world, how do these weird, dysfunctional personalities create chaos and resolve things – I think it will be quite farcical.
Some people say Trump is impossible to satirise.
L: I disagree. You can’t satirise him in the normal way because as long as he’s winning he’s fine. But if you could show that his disdain for the truth could lead to a situation in which he’s not winning, he’s losing, that would be a satire – I think.
But it’s also going to be fun with songs again?
L: There will be songs and the usual level of knob gags.
D: It’s dark but we’re having a laugh with it because if you can’t laugh, what can you do?
Very true. Are you going to stick with this theme in the future?
L: Doing X the musical? Yeah probably, it’s worked so far. We’ve always wanted to do Trump and we’ve seen some attempts at Trump in musical form and we weren’t too impressed. But we might not even be here soon so maybe “Apocalypse the Musical”.
D: World War III the Musical.
L: It’s good to have a niche. We want people to know if they come and see a Blowfish show it’ll be funny, topical and a little bit silly.