Review - Shipwreck at the Almeida Theatre

Will Longman
Will Longman

There have been a good number of plays across London that have addressed The Issue that is Donald Trump, whether it be Jon Culshaw's tip of the hat in the first production of the Pinter season, or the Bridge's contemporary Julius Caesar. But at the Almeida, Anne Washburn takes Trump on head-on, deconstructing almost every element of the President's character, political career, and the people that vote for him.

But rather than being a clever or searing dissection of the leader of the Free World, Shipwreck often feels like tuning into the dreams of someone who has fallen asleep listening to a radio phone-in.

The majority of the play takes place as friends reunite at country retreat, snowed in with terrible Wi-fi or phone signal. Which is convenient, because much of it consists of the characters describing various YouTube videos of Trump lying or giving creepy interview answers about his daughter.

The mostly-liberal group of New Yorkers delve into discussion around Trump's lies, or how he has mastered the art of the bluff. There's no subtlety here, it's a liberal onslaught with so much source material that Rupert Goold's production hardly has space to breathe.  

Fisayo Akindae is at the centre of the most gripping moments of the play: his character Mark is Kenyan, and adopted by a white red state couple in the 80s. Through a number of enigmatic monologues, he imagines life as a slave, and how to raise his daughter in America, not knowing how to broach the subject to a black child growing up in America. We get beneath the surface and find a real, complex character I wish we could see more of.

We do get a couple of glimpses of the man himself, with Elliot Cowan giving an angry impression of Trump (which did make me think, I don't think I've ever actually heard Trump angry...). One scenario imagines if one of Trumps 'bluffs' were actually true: a visit from George Bush asking him to cool off on his noble attempts to quell talk of war in Iraq.

The other imagines the infamous dinner with James Comey which, in a weird, almost wonderful way, sees Trump covered in gold body paint, Caesar-esque. What holds it back is Washburn's use of prophetic, inflated language. It creates a disconnect between the Trump in the play and the Trump she's trying to make a point about.

There's a much-needed shot of energy towards the end of this 3+ hour play. Luke Halls' video designs - which mostly see comical flashes of Trump, Hilary et al. emblazoned in stain-glass windows projected on the Almeida's bare-brick wall - shoot into action alongside Paul Arditti's bone-shaking soundtrack. Too little, too late.

A streamlined version of this text, with a sharper focus and believable conversations, and this might shine a light on just why people did vote for Trump. Instead, it tries to offer too much, resulting in a stuffy final product.

Shipwreck is at the Almeida Theatre until 30th March. 

Originally published on

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