Creating a play that responds directly to the endless circus of modern American politics is no mean feat. It’s true that in the past few years a fair few adaptations have emerged – Trump and Julius Caesar seem to have become almost synonymous, for example – but in terms of a new play, it’s an ambitious project.
But that is what Anna Washburn and Rupert Goold have attempted to deliver with their new offering at the Almeida. Shipwreck is a searingly of-the-moment play, centring around – who else – Donald Trump, and eight middle-aged liberals who have come to an upstate New York farmhouse to bemoan him and everything he stands for. It takes place in summer 2017, at the height of the Comey scandal, and is an astonishingly dull way to spend three hours.
The problem is not the acting, which is solid all round with particular stand out performances from Justine Mitchell and Khalid Abdalla, or Miriam Buether’s brilliantly creative farmhouse set. It’s not Jack Knowles’ atmospheric lighting – or the use of projections (Luke Halls, video designer, interweaves them assuredly). The problem is that it is impossible to overstate the extent to which nothing happens. Sure, there are a few dream sequences which involve Trump beating up George Bush and prancing around in gold body paint, but the vast majority of the (three hour long) play is taken up by a group of whiny middle class Democrats discussing one man. There are – very slight – moments of tension between the characters but even the revelation halfway through that one of the group had voted for Trump failed to stir this audience member.
The boredom is alleviated only though the superhuman efforts of Fisayo Akinade, an exceptionally talented young actor whose recounting of his life as the black son of white adoptive parents provide moments of real poignancy and interest within the play.
Early on in the play, some of the characters discuss whether it is possible to create a play of one specific moment, and the answer in this case is a resounding yes. Washburn’s play lives and breathes Trump and the specific moment in the summer of 2017. It’s a laudable experiment perhaps, but is the play – and the audience – any better off for it? The answer, in my opinion, is a resounding no.
Images: Marc Brenner