- The Old Vic
- Until May 28th
- Tickets from £12
This is a play about politics, not a political play.
Mike Bartlett’s The 47th imagine Trump running again for office in 2024. Biden is senile and Kamala Harris harbors presidential ambitions. The plot meanders around Shakespearean corners. There are Machiavellian plots, surreptitiousness, and scheming. The result is a play that is more entertaining than thought provoking.
The play always feels in the shadow of Charles III, Mike Bartlett’s critically acclaimed Shakespearean “future history” play imagining the Prince Regent taking the throne. Stylistically speaking it is the 47th predecessor; both are written in blank verse and both are in heavy conversation with Shakespeare, borrowing themes, symbols, and tropes. But casting Charles as a Shakespearean tragic hero worked in that it gave him a reasonably vanilla character in the grand scheme of geopolitics, some intrigue and sexiness, allowing audiences to genuinely question whether he could be a sympathetic hero or a hubristic villain.
But none of the subtlety, nuance or balance of perspectives is present in The 47th, a play that revives the chronic liberal Trump bashing virtuousness that seemed to have subsided once the ersatz despot was voted out. Trump is a villain yes. Trump is snarky yes. Trump looks a bit freakish yes. But we know this already. The 47th does little to add to the political conversation by catering to our impression of him rather than wanting to challenge it. Shakespeare’s best villains have moments of heartfelt compassion that lets the audience reassess their moral stance towards them. Shylock’s ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?’ speech or Claudius’ lament: ‘O, my offense is rank it smells to heaven’. Trump has no moment of self-awareness. why? Because Trump is Trump. Because we, a Merlot sipping liberal audience have to, and always will, hate him.
Portraying Trump as a laughing stock made for a cheap laugh back in 2016. But the shtick dissipated quickly because Trump really was a buffoon; there was no SNL sketch or Spitting Image hot take to add a satirical spin on the President. The 47th rehashes the same tired platitudes that were thankfully put to rest after Biden took office. But Bartlett’s writing is highly polished. He does a masterful job in interweaving the Trumpian jargon and idiosyncratic speech with Shakespearean poetry and imagery. It is a shame that his script does not lead us anywhere we have not been before.
Whilst this does not make for a politically intriguing production, Bertie Carvel’s hypnotic performance as Trumpensures that it is an entertaining one. From his penguin like gait to the self-satisfied smirk of him, his uncannily accurate appearance of him induced gasps from the audience on his first appearance of him: driving onto the stage in a golf cart. Tamara Tunie’s Kamala Harris is equally accurate and fun to watch. An icy Lydia Wilson portrays Ivanka Trump as a Lady Macbeth-like schemer. Her emotionless performance by her is chillingly enjoyable and her relationship by her with her father by her is enthralling as it is creepy. The Q Anon Shaman even makes an appearance as a surreal apparition, whirling up a crowd into a tightly choreographed frenzied mob in-between scenes.
As a play imaging his return, The 47th does little to investigate the life behind Trump, instead choosing to cater to a liberal audience who want to see nothing other than his unceremonious downfall. It is a play about politics. But it is by no means a political play.