Clockwise: Andy Umerah; Rosie Ward; Eleanor Jackson; Natasha Zacher; Jacob Bradford, Alex McMorran
Politically, 2016 saw a seismic shift in the UK and US, as the polls for the Brexit referendum and presidential election predicted very different outcomes. The biggest question asked in the media was ‘How could it have happened? There were no signs…’ As for who and why people actually voted for Donald Trump, these queries are explored in Old Sole Theatre’s Great Again: The Musical, which recently ran at the Vault Festival.
Events are seen through the eyes of Kelsey (Eleanor Jackson) and Josh (Jacob Bradford), two youths in their late teens, who on the surface are the least likely candidates to vote for Trump. Kelsey’s parents are ‘liberals’, as are all her social circle. Kelsey, however, feels very differently, unable to voice her opinions without feeling alienated, patronised or shouted down. Josh – who also hails from Beavercreek, Ohio – has trouble being assertive, plus he’s gay (not normally a quality associated with Republicans). Both decide to go to Cincinnati to see Trump speak at a rally. Enjoying the event, they spend the rest of the summer following Trump’s campain trail with John (Andy Umerah) whose enthusiasm for Trump surpasses even their own. Initially bouyed by meeting like-minded people, the summer offers other points of view as well. However, for one person the seeds of doubt are sown…
One of the greatest strengths of this show is its book. Written by playwright Isla van Tricht, the show’s subject matter has an immediacy that’s hard to replicate in pure fiction. What comes across most strongly is how ‘being forgotten about’ affects choices and why many chose to believe Trump’s promises, even though he hadn’t to date shown evidence of his competence. Other reasons such as only selectively believing the media feature prominently, hence why we have Trump’s perennial preoccupation with ‘fake news’.
For my money though, the most memorable aspects of the show are Alex McMorran’s ‘blue collar’ supporter, who offers a time-worn perspective on the ‘danger’ of hope, and the confrontation between the Trump and anti-Trump supporters. The atmosphere in that scene is electric. Interestingly, a lot of the reasons given by characters for not supporting Hilary Clinton are of an emotive nature, based on hearsay rather than her policies. Through John we see the encouragment of voting based on hostility towards Clinton, rather than extolling the ‘positives’ of Trump – a tact used in mainstream media. Then of course there’s the ambivalence towards women…
The show is well-cast (especially with Jackson as Kelsey) and the songs help to convey the ‘earnestness’ of the right-leaning characters. In an unconventional way, Great Again could be said to be the reverse of the musical of Hair, where the ‘counterculture’ nowadays is consertvatism – invisible to the naked eye, but manifest in the polls.
While Old Sole Theatre’s show takes a different tact to Tim Robbins’ political satire Bob Roberts, with its populist neoconservative ‘antihero’, Great Again aims to provoke discussion between entrenched opinions and understand the emotional reasons behind voting behaviour.
© Michael Davis 2018
Cast: Eleanor Jackson; Jacob Bradford; Andy Umerah; Alex McMorran; Rosie Ward; Natasha Zacher
Writer: Isla van Tricht
Composer: Guy Woolf
Director: Joe Cunningham
Musical Director: Lauren Ronan
Producer: Old Sole Theatre Company
Design: Fraser Craig (lighting)
Great Again: The Musical ran at the Vault Festival from 24th-28th January.