Some wickedly funny writing and tremendous work from Bertie Carvel, Tamara Tunie and Lydia Wilson can’t quite make The 47th great again at the Old Vic Theatre
“It’s not a game for gentlemen we’re playing,
Political and civilized.
This is Historic”
Much has been made of Mike Bartlett’s forthcoming omnipresence on London stages. Cock has just been revived in the West End, the Lyric Hammersmith is about to open Scandaltown and the Old Vic now hosts The 47th, all probing at different elements of Bartlett’s skill as a writer. The 47th harks back to King Charles III in some ways, a return to Shakespearean future history play mode, but one is left wondering why now, why this theatre, why this writer?
Bartlett has pressed the fast-forward button just slightly to take us to 2024 and the next US presidential election. The Republican primaries are about to start and Trump has got his beady eye on them, whilst Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are in their own negotiations on the other side. And as the race to the White House heats up once again to insurrectionist levels, a case study of the perilous and precarious state of US democracy is played out in front of us.
Elements of Rupert Goold’s production work extremely well. An outstanding lead performance from Bertie Carvel as Trump is just astonishing right from his outrageous entrance. It’s an enthralling piece of acting that has to be seen to be believed. And he’s matched in superb work by Tamarie Tunie’s Harris and Lydia Wilson’s Ivanka, each transcending caricature to evoke the passion and drive that is necessary to make it up Pennsylvania Avenue.
But at the same time, in suggesting that the recent past (Jan 6th) is doomed to repeat itself, it’s hard to see quite what insight is being delivered here. Just looking at the appalling behaviour of most Republican senators at Ketanji Brown Jackson’s recent confirmation to the Supreme Court is a perverse kind of theatre itself, and something with more power than the underpowered subplot about siblings on different sides of the aisle here.
Miriam Buether’s design work is strong, as is Ash J Woodward’s video design, but The 47th never clicked for me the way that King Charles III did. Even if you don’t think that it is too soon, Bartlett never quite makes the case for why he is the writer to tackle Trump and Trumpism, the Shakespearean allusions feeling a touch forced. He undoubtedly has a way with a wickedly funny line which counts for a lot with this running time and the lead cast really are tremendous but the play is just a bit #covfefe.