Bread And Circuses: The Wrestling Opera

Music by Liam Wade, Libretto by Charles Ogilvie

Created with the support of the Bogliasco Foundation, University of Ravensbourne, and Arts Council England

Bread and Circuses: The Wrestling Opera takes the cameo appearance of Donald Trump on a 2007 televised wrestling event as a starting point for a show exploring political rhetoric and America’s cultural crisis through the lens of professional wrestling. It’s a family epic of love, revenge, and values kept and betrayed, that plays out over the 30 years leading up to that moment. Mamaw leads a family wrestling company who make it to the bigtime…but what did they give to get there, who did they give it to, and why was it kept a secret?

In 2007, the now-President of the United States appeared in Wrestlemania XXIII, a huge, televised, stadium-based wrestling event. Trump, or the ‘character’ he was playing, gets caught up in a dispute with a successful wrestling promoter in what was billed as the ‘Battle of the Billionaires’. Trump gets out of his ringside seat, body-slams the promoter and then pins him to a chair with the help of another wrestler. Then Trump proceeds to buzz cut and wet shave the character’s head in front of a stadium of over 80,000 screaming fans. Another 1.2 million watched via pay-per-view.  This would not have been remarkable for a self-promoting property mogul with a soft spot for publicity were it not for what has followed. It is intriguing to consider that in this moment of scripted melodrama, and in seeing the crowd’s ecstatic response, Trump may have begun to shape his electoral strategy. 

The show explores how kayfabe—the portrayal of staged events within the industry of professional wrestling as ‘real’ or ‘true’—might define an era. It isn’t about factual verifiability: it’s about emotional fidelity. As conspiracy theorist Alex Jones admitted to the New York Times, kayfabe ‘rests on the assumption that feelings are inherently more trustworthy than facts.’ This could sum up the theater of wrestling, notable recent electoral campaigns, and much of the western operatic canon. The work was born from a conversation about how thoroughly operatic American professional wrestling is: the scripted shows of the mainstream professional wrestling world use music, lighting, and special effects to showcase skilled professionals enacting complex melodramas of courage, ambition, love, and jealousy. Just as in opera, the disguises, deceits, asides, and grand rhetoric let the audience ignore logical inconsistencies on the way to an outcome they likely already know, whilst making abundantly clear who the heroes and villains are.

Bread and Circuses: The Wrestling Opera runs 90 minutes in full.  It has a cast of 6 singers, 1 actor, and 2 wrestlers. It is currently scored for piano. The showcase presented by the Tete a Tete Festival at The Cockpit Theatre and the Playground Theatre featured live and recorded excerpts from the opera, and sequences from the video game created by the animation department of the University of Ravensbourne.

The Wrestling Opera wos workshopped with REACH Wrestling in August 2021, produced by Ryan Wilce



An MC, heard and never seen, played by Charlie Ogilvie


Johnny Vance head of America’s Finest Wrestling Company, Governor Richie in the ring, played by Paul Featherstone

Red Vance known in the ring as Kentucky Kid, son of Johnny Vance, grandson of Ada Vance, played by David Webb

Shaunie Flynn known in the ring as The Blonde, niece of Vince Flynn, played by Natasha Day

Billy Hannaghy known in the ring as Crispin Varsity, husband of Shaunie, played by Isaac Tolley

Vince Flynn known in the ring as Don Darkman, co-head of AFWC, uncle of Shaunie, played by Pauls Putnins

Ada Vance, mother to Johnny Vance, mammaw to Red Vance, played by Hanna-Liisa Kirchin


The Man, a shadowy property developer  /  Mr. Molasses, a face, played by Jason King

Randy Ayahuasca, a luchador, played by Cameron Braddon

The Demon Dentist, a heel  /  Heavy of The Man, played by Rhiannon Brinson

Patrick Bailey, Conductor

Nuria Bonet, Pianist