Old Vic Theatre, London – until 28 May 2022
The first thing to say is what everyone has said: that Bertie Carvel as Donald Trump is magnificent. Eerily so, capturing not only the ex-President’s showmanship, the gestures and unwholesomely needy yet threatening charm – gosh he is funny at times! – but moving beyond caricature into something devilishly close to possession. At least if, like me in one of the too-close cheap stalls, you are near enough to field his stray golf-ball in the opening scene.
He also gives it just a tiny edge of camp, which I had not noticed in the real Trump but now, looking back at old newsreels, realise was always there. So this is Carvel’s show: the man who was both Murdoch in Ink and the original Miss Trunchbull in Matilda. May he be many other villains, up to and including Lear.
The premise of the play is that Biden’s term is ending, the aged President himself losing it (a remarkable sleepwalking scene, one of the many Shakespearian echoes). He hands over to Kamala Harris, played with gripping sincerity by, who in her confrontations with the Donald, who is attempting re-election, grows in stature satisfyingly through the play, as it accelerates from a frankly too slow opening half-hour.
Kamala grows in the later scenes into gritty liberal determination and moral struggle, after being mansplained into silence in a TV debate – he walks out, having set his ghastly militia to fireworks and mayhem outside and crying “Don’t let them tell you what to do, OK?“
So Tunie is a treat, and so is Lydia Wilson as Ivanka, the Cordelia-substitute in his first Lear-like division of deputy powers. She turns out, no spoilers, to be far cannier and far more ruthless than her drippy brothers, and to hold, rather horribly, the solution to Trump the Father himself.
As for spectacle, enlivening a play about political ideas and the limits of political morality, the solution as so often is in the hands of director Rupert Goold and designer Miriam Buether. Indeed the two young Americans next to me were wincing heavily (“I’m scared now”) at the explosion of violence when the first half hots up, and there is a very nasty ritual dance of threat around Joss Carter as that man in the facepaint and horns from the Capitol siege, taunting a “MSM” mainstream media reporter to speak their “truth” on video: “Say it – cheating Hillary, murdering husband, stole election, vaccine!”
I have to admit I was a bit of an outlier , a sceptic. about Mike Bartlett’s first foray into Shakespearian iambic-pentameter and artful echoes in his play Charles III. I found the blank verse monotonous and the characters unbelievable – with the exception of one splendid onlooker who defined how strange Britain will feel, how disconnected and lost, when the Queen dies. Nor did I much like the veiled ghost of Diana: it all felt a bit too parasitically Tina-Brown-explains-the-royals for my taste. But it was a great success, and here, with deliberate echoes of Shakespeare tragedies of more purport – the two Richards, Macbeth, and certainly Lear – there is more meat, more meaning, more threat and more thoughtfulness. It goes from a slow start to accelerate nicely. The the laboured iambics sometimes work well , because the five-foot line is a natural English language emphasis (“You democratic motherfucking cunts!” Cries Trump). But they also sometimes make the dialogue, or speeches, feel artificial. But it’s a novelty, a brilliant central performance, certainly one to see.
oldvictheatre.com. to 29 May
‘This is @BertieCarvel’s show, his #DonaldTrump is magnificent’: @lib_thinks on Mike Bartlett’s new future history play at @oldvictheatre. Runs til 28 May. ★★★★ #OV47th #theatrereviews #politicaltheatre
REVIEW ROUND-UP: What are critics saying about the premiere of Mike Bartlett’s new future history play The 47th? @LoveLdnLoveCul gathers the verdicts. @BertieCarvel stars as #DonaldTrump in @rupertgoold’s production at @oldvictheatre. #OV47th #newwriting #theatrereviews #LondonTheatre #politics