Antigone, David Dunn, Donald Trump, Edinburgh Fringe, Eteocles and Polynices, Greek Tragedy, Lydia Saroto, Mark Howard, Nuworks' Freak Show, Nuworks: Theatre Made in Australia, Paradise in Augustine's, Peter Noble, Sophocles, Theatre Review
[The following contains spoilers.]
Nuworks Theatre have returned to the Fringe from Melbourne, Australia. Their latest musical “Freak Show” has one date remaining at Paradise in Augustine’s. They are a fine company with a lot of flair and personality. I had been exhilarated by their show “The Electra Legacy” at last year’s Fringe and I was worried that the second time around, the novelty would be gone and they would seem a bit flat. Yet Nuworks are like a bottomless bag of tricks and “Freak Show” swiftly becomes arresting. You are always on tenterhooks to see what it will do and where it will go next.
“Freak Show” rolls into one handy ball strenuous lungfuls of rock opera, Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone, and a satirical portrait of President Donald Trump. If the story is built from these three distinct things, it is told as it goes along using dancing, melodrama, physical theatre, masks and props. The songs sound impressive to my ear but I am not a competent judge of musicals. Indeed, musicals are all Greek to me whereas Sophocles is altogether more familiar. So let’s instead hone in on the storytelling and David Dunn’s script.
Creon is Trump and Trump is Creon. In Sophocles’ Antigone, Creon accedes to power in Thebes after his nephews, Eteocles and Polynices, rip each other up on the battlefield. Creon orders that Polynices’ body should remain unburied, as a final indignity, but Antigone, Polynices’ sister, defies this edict. She is the self-confident and ultimately rather hectoring woman who stands in Creon’s way. So “lock her up! Lock her up!”
A trap that satirists commonly fall into when approaching Trump is to imagine him as a goofy or an even half-loveable “sad dad.” On Saturday Night Live, Alec Baldwin had transformed the President into what is basically another Homer Simpson. “Freak Show” does not have anything particularly original to say about Trump, but its stance on him is still a credible one. Peter Noble plays him as a steely-eyed, cynical desperado, a bit too slobby or too much of a frat boy to be properly Machiavellian, but still equipped with plenty of low cunning. He is made up as an Uncle-Sam clown, but as he stalks and scuffs around the stage, sneering and with bent brows, he comes to assume the authentic mannerisms of Baron Samedi. He is Trump not as an ongoing subject of satire, but more as a dazzling folk bogeyman.
“Freak Show” is consequently effective when it performs an about-turn and gives its bogeyman an unexpected shove. Creon/Trump’s glib politicking and his dominance of Thebes’ social media are belied by the fact that behind closed doors he does not know how to speak his son Haimon (Mark Howard) or connect with him. When Haimon is torn away, Creon is overwhelmed with grief. The manipulator and his jaunty, abusive “fake news” evaporates before a single ice-cold blast of reality. As in Tiresias’s prophesy, Creon’s tweets are replaced with mangled sounds of horror. Perhaps we even pity this Trump in the end. He is too shallow to compete with the viciousness of the gods.