Why does the Devil have all the best tunes? He certainly does in The 47th at the Old Vic. Bertie Carvel’s brilliant incarnation of Donald Trump, is a tour de force, writes Christopher Walker.
He taunts and goads his audience, reducing some to tears and others to furious outbursts. He dominates the stage, rather as the ex-President overshadows US political life…which is rather the point of the play.
Mike Bartlett’s writing is at times spot on, at others the most outrageous parody. He stretches the bounds of credulity, rather like Donald himself.
He also writes in blank verse, arguing “the Shakespearean form means one can link the intimate and personal with the national and epic.”
This can be distracting, and at times Bartlett seems to be directly borrowing from the Bard.
In a wonderful moment when Trump turns up to double cross his Republican rival Senator Ted Cruz, Trump gives a speech that leans rather too heavily on Mark Anthony’s in Julius Caesar.
But then, contemporary American politics is Shakespearean. And Trump’s speech, indeed his double cross, is entirely believable.
The plot of The 47th concerns the Presidential election of 2024, and whether an unhinged Trump will run again.
An exhausted Biden resigns for ill health and Vice-President Kamala Harris becomes the 47th president of the title. I think Bartlett intended President Harris to be the hero of this piece but, well, we all love a villain.
Bertie Carvel’s Trump is the undoubted main attraction.
When he starts the play by addressing the audience directly, we all squirm. ‘You bunch of liberals say you hate me, but you can’t get enough of me.’
He’s right. This moment called to mind Satan addressing the audience in Milton’s Paradise Lost. You can smell the sulphur.
Another wonderful scene is when Trump attends Bill Clinton’s funeral uninvited, like a Bad Fairy at a Christening.
He shakes President Biden’s hand and hoarsely whispers “I know about Jill…” What does he know? It’s menacing, and certainly unhinges Biden.
Carvel’s performance is so believable it is almost impersonation. The costume and wig help, well done Evie Gurney, but Carvel must be congratulated for perfecting Donald’s mannerisms and body language.
Tamara Tunie is also close to real life as Kamala Harris and gives a strong performance. Likewise James Garnon as Ted Cruz.
Simon Williams is not at all like Joe Biden, but he captures an ageing President well, one who is ready to stand aside for the greater good.
The Trump children are strongly parodied, and boy can you see why the producers choose to open this show in London rather than the USA. As Trump tells us he’s “a great Suer.”
Eric Trump is written as a simpering idiot, which is somewhat unfair, but Freddie Meredith is very amusing.
He is led on by his conspiring elder brother Don Junior, (an excellent Oscar Lloyd), although Ivanka Trump is of course the strongest of the three, portrayed by Lydia Wilson in tight designer outfits and a blonde wig.
With Trump so believable, it grates that all three performers are rather young for their roles. Especially a beardless Oscar playing Don Junior who is 44 now.
The Capitol rioters are the rather frightening chorus of this play, led on by the demonic Shaman (Joss Carter). A brilliant touch by director Rupert Goold.
But much of this play would be beyond shocking to Americans, not least the half of them who voted for Trump.
Hints of incest, on stage violence, civil unrest, presidents dying. If this opens in the States, I can’t wait to watch the Fox News report.
Tickets at https://www.oldvictheatre.com/stage/event/the-47th
Main Picture: Tamara Tunie as Kamala Harris, and Bertie Carvel as Donald Trump in The 47th at The Old Vic.Pictures Marc Brenner