Political drama mounted by the Old Vic in London is engaging and sure to stir passions… (one spoiler)
IF YOU LIKE politics, especially recent American history, you will enjoy this play and might want to see it more than once.
Written by Mike Bartlett, a British TV writer (‘Dr Foster’) and playwright (‘King Charles III’) and delivered in Shakespearian language and rhythms, there are three central figures – Donald Trump (Bertie Carvel), Kamala Harris (Tamara Tunie) and Ivana Trump (Lydia Wilson).
We are approaching the 2024 US election and Ted Cruz (James Garnon) is expecting to run for President as The Republican Party nomination and seeks The Donald’s approval – knowing that with this, he will be delivered a handsome loyal voting block.
At times, you could be mistaken for thinking it was really Donald Trump up there and not Carvel; he has all the tics and mannerisms of the 45th President of the United States and his voice is remarkably similar too.
Matters do not go to plan – it’s simply foolish to predict what Trump can and will do.
Biden’s health is faltering and he decides he must hand over the reins.
Harris is faced with Trump and he relishes the battle ahead with the 47th President and the first woman to be in the Oval Office.
This all makes for great drama – and it is ably abetted by fine supporting performances – Donald Jr (Oscar Lloyd) as his father’s right-hand man, Eric (Freddie Meredith) as the rather scared and out of depth dopey kid and Ivanka – the most ambitious and cunning of them all.
Bartlett invests her with a particular agency – it’s hard to tell how much is his imagination or rooted in the reality of her character.
What is undeniable though in this play, is her single-minded vision for herself – and perhaps this is a spoiler of sorts – but Trump chooses her to be his no2 and vice president elect.
It’s hard to say a lot without giving away major plot lines – because unpredictable events force the characters into positions we might not easily see or understand from this moment in time.
Within the motivations of these characters in the play – it all makes sense and that is vital – though again, whether Ivanka is quite so scheming leaves a question…
Bartlett has presented a nearly even handed portrait of US politics – it isn’t completely sympathetic towards Trump and his supporters but at the same he doesn’t shy away from exploring some of the criticisms of the Democrats and their leaders such as Harris.
An interesting sub-plot is Ivanka’s newly employed driver, Rosie Takahashi (Ami Tredrea) – she comes from the other side of the tracks to their usual fan base – she’s educated, materially comfortable, more middle class than working… but she’s a fervent fan believing The Donald brand is the only one that can deliver the US she loves and believes in – all else is pretence and elites or swamps managing affairs as they have always done – in their own interests and no one else’s.
Of course for some, Trump is the swamp – however critically he and his supporters might talk about that.
Bartlett plays things pretty straight down the line, presenting both sides with believable arguments and positions.
It is good to hear the other side and some rather more insightful analysis than sometimes comes out of parts of the partisan press.
Dismiss the Trump phenomena at your peril – it is complex and powerful and deserves to be considered coolly – not simply dismissed as a bunch of no hope, losers tying them themselves to a man with the same prejudices and inclinations – sure, but that is a large part of America talking back at itself and it too has dignity and decency and it isn’t how it defines itself. Trump has been ingenious in exploiting and cultivating those who feel left out and behind, and the play gives them a rare voice.
This is all wonderfully articulated in a particularly powerful scene as a group of Republicans gather and ‘limber up’ for the TV debate that is set to take place between Donald and Kamala.
Into the midst comes Charlie Takahashi (James Cooney), brother of Rosie. He is a reporter with the liberal media – you fear for him. Garnon as Paul, the leader of this ‘rabble’, is particularly menacing. Predictably The Shaman (Joss Carter) is there too – it slightly detracts from the serious intent this group has.
This is a wonderful production, great acting, superb drama, and moments of high tension, it’s pretty much what you want in an evening when you know power, high stakes, manipulation, personal ambition and politics are all going to feature strongly.
Acv rating: **** (out of five)
All pictures: ©The Od Vic by Marc Brenner
‘The 47th’ by Mike Bartlett, (March 29) until May 28, The Old Vic, The Cut London SE1 8NB.