Review: Best of Enemies, Young Vic

David Harewood and Charles Edwards lead James Graham’s new play Best of Enemies with real excitement in this Young Vic / Headlong co-production

“A man should never turn down two things. Sex, and appearing on television”

James Graham seems to have an unerringly great hit rate (recent gigs include Quiz and an episode of The Crown) and his return to the theatre is no exception with this exciting new play at the Young Vic, Best of Enemies. On the face of it, you woudn’t be sure some 1968 US TV debates would have much to say to us but Graham’s instinct is naturally assured and thus their impact of so much of the shape of public discourse, even today, is explored.

The debates were between the conservative William F Buckley Jr and the liberal Gore Vidal, put together by the ABC network in order to galvanise TV audiences during the 1968 US presidential elections. And Graham combines verbatim reconstructions of the debates with a fictionalised account of the world around them, as they unexpectedly birth a news format and polarised commentariat that endures, like the worst of barnacles, to this very day.

Charles Edwards and David Harewood are, to put it simply, perfectly cast. Edwards’ Vidal is charm personified, but undercut by a conceitedness that seems to fly in the face of his politics. And Harewood’s reactionary Buckley is a masterclass, physically so potent as the good intent behind the debates curdles into something more insidious and poisonous insults start to fly, puncturing egos and yet inflating ratings.

Jeremy Herrin’s production marshals a large cast of characters well. And Bunny Christie’s set design meshes well with Luke Halls’ video work, hinting at the growing role of the puppet masters at the expense of the agency of the onscreen talent who think they’re in control. A hugely fascinating theatrical experience that makes me want to check out Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s documentary that inspired it.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Wasi Daniju
Best of Enemies is booking at the Young Vic until 22nd January

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