Review: The 47th, at Old Vic Theatre

Echoes of King Lear and Julius Caesar in riveting production that imagines who might be the next US president

Thursday, 21st April — By Lucy Popescu

Bertie Carvel in The 47th Photo by Marc Brenner

Bertie Carvel in The 47th. Photo: Marc Brenner

JOE Biden (Simon Williams) is the 46th president of the United States. Mike Bartlett imagines who might be the 47th in this exuberant political satire set in the near future.

Bertie Carvel is utterly convincing as Donald Trump from the moment he arrives on stage driving a golf buggy. He has immersed himself so completely in the role, I pity those close to him who may feel as though they are living with an egomaniac for the duration of the play’s run. His Trump is a triumph.

Bartlett taps into the epic nature of Trump’s rise – his popular appeal and the intense divisions he actively encouraged which ended with the storming of the Capitol building in January last year – as well as exploring his personal life and relationship with his children (Melania is notably absent).

The use of blank verse is inspired and allows Bartlett to seamlessly echo several Shakespeare plays, from King Lear to Julius Caesar, as he boldly depicts the presidential race of 2024.

Tamara Tunie as Kamala Harris, and Bertie Carvel as Trump

After agreeing to support Ted Cruz (James Garnon) as the Republican presidential candidate, Trump speaks at a rally and adroitly whips up his supporters who call for him to run instead. Spooked by Trump’s veiled threats, and increasingly frail, Biden resigns and his vice president Kamala Harris (a regal Tamara Tunie) has to step up as the 47th unelected president.

Inevitably, there is further civil unrest, led by the Shaman (Joss Carter), and Harris has to deal with the fallout. The political ambitions of Trump’s daughter Ivanka (Lydia Wilson, also superb) are ramped up by Bartlett – the consequences terrifying to contemplate.

Rupert Goold’s direction strikes just the right tone – his production fizzes with energy, tension and humour – while the wigs, hair and make-up by Richard Mawbey also deserve a special mention. This is riveting theatre.

Until May 28
oldvictheatre.com

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