It opens on a golf course, with Trump driving a real buggy (a bold but well-executed move from Goold on designer Miriam Buether’s relatively small, curved stage). The audience is quick to laugh conspiratorially at the sight of a former president better suited to putting balls than playing politics, not because this vision alone is especially funny, but because watching a new Mike Bartlett satire comes with a certain amount of anticipation: we expect it to be funny. But the clever playwright is one step ahead; knowing this is what we’ve come for, he turns this opening sequence back on us, having Trump address the auditorium directly, condemning us (not inaccurately) as a room of middle-class liberals.
Bertie Carvel (Donald Trump) in The 47th at The Old Vic. Photo: Marc Brenner
Olivier and Tony-winning actor Bertie Carvel (Ink) delivers a pitch-perfect, tour-de-force performance as Trump, mirroring with uncanny accuracy his camp gestures and creepily sing-song tone when delivering catty retorts. All that sets him apart from the real 45th President of the United States is the eloquence of Bartlett’s script flowing from his mouth. Credit too must go to wigs, hair and make-up wizard Richard Mawbey, for transforming the 44-year-old actor into the ageing, blonde-quiffed, orange-faced villain.
Joining him on a stage loosely modelled on the Oval Office and lit fittingly by an oval crown designed by Neil Austin (Frozen, Ink), are Lydia Wilson (King Charles III) as a terrifyingly lifelike, knife-sharp Ivanka Trump; Simon Williams (The Deep Blue Sea) as a tired and docile Joe Biden; and Tamara Tunie (Law & Order) as Kamala Harris, whose performance takes a while to warm up but rises to deliver some of the play's most powerful speeches and gut-punches to the former president.
Tamara Tunie (Kamala Harris) in The 47th at The Old Vic. Photo: Marc Brenner
Also in the mix are fictional siblings with opposing political views. Charlie Takahashi (a worthy performance from James Cooney) is a left-wing journalist for the New York Times, who goes undercover to report on an extreme right-wing group his sister Rosie (a solid professional debut from LAMDA student Ami Tredrea) is a part of. Rosie is also a driver and aide to the Trumps, but her chief purpose in the play is to voice the counter argument: that those on the right often feel belittled and looked down upon by the judgemental liberal elite.
We also meet a black-American nurse, Vita (Cherrelle Skeete), left wondering whether her mother would have survived Covid had Trump responded more appropriately to the pandemic.
It was the storming of the Capitol building in 2021 that inspired Bartlett to pen The 47th, and the face-painted, Viking-helmet-wearing Shaman gets written in here too, portrayed in a sequence of eerie, ritualistic dances by movement specialist Joss Carter, following an appropriately terrifying scene in which stage and auditorium get stormed from all angles by an angry mob of fascists.
Joss Carter (Shaman) and the Ensemble in The 47th at The Old Vic. Photo: Marc Brenner
Written in blank verse, The 47th is speckled with witty nods to Shakespeare, earning chuckles from the audience of seasoned theatregoers. An early scene sees Trump pull a King Lear, asking his three eldest children to declare their love for him as he divvies up his assets. Later, Joe Biden does a Lady Macbeth, sleepwalking through the White House muttering his worries about running for a second term. A rhyming couplet from Kamala Harris, questioning whether it was Ivanka she should have feared all along, provides a fitting note to end on.
The 47th may only have a short lifespan ahead. Once the votes are counted and the fate of the 2024 election is sealed, Bartlett’s imaginings will turn into dated fantasies. But it has the potential to gather momentum over the next two years – and deserves a US run during that time, as we watch the politically fractured country prepare to head to the polls again.
The 47th is running at the Old Vic Theatre from Tuesday 29 March - Saturday 28 May. Click here to book.
|What||The 47th, Old Vic Theatre review|
|Where||The Old Vic, The Cut, London, SE1 8NB | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
29 Mar 22 – 28 May 22, Performances at 19:30pm with additional 2:30pm matinees
|Price||£10 - £65|
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|