Colour blind casting is something we have come to accept in the theatre. But in spite of the fact that David Harewood gives a magnificent performance as W F Buckley, the right wing American political pundit, he is a slightly disconcerting presence in this account of what happened when ABC had him and the author a gadfly Gore Vidal comment on the 1968 Democratic and Republican conventions. It simply could not have happened. But to be honest the conventions are hardly the stuff of memory here so forget that – and one does so well are the confrontations staged and played – and the result is a magnificent clash of Titans.
James Graham’s previous works were This House, which dealt with the events that led to the election of Margaret Thatcher, and Ink about Rupert Murdoch’s take over of the Sun. His research is immense and his skill at crafting past events into a piece of theatre unmatched. The play gets a terrific production – director Jeremy Herrin manipulates the cast from studio set arguing on camera to battling it out when the cameras are not on and above the actors scenes from the real events of the day are shown on large screens. Bunny Christie’s set is quite simply amazing, as he creates an arena before one’s eyes yet manages to show that the battle was also taking place on those screens. The pair are being filmed by cameras and at times that too is shown on the screens behind them. It is a complicated and brilliantly conceived affair.
Graham’s argument is that slanging match may have introduced the age when political battles came to be waged on television rather than in the legislature – we can see that happening here today as the Commons becomes increasingly irrelevant and announcements once only possible from the dispatch box are made from that Downing Street rostrum or on the hoof. One of the evening’s jokes is when someone remarks about a political leader running for office due to their TV celebrity. Trump and Johnson naturally come to mind.
There is plenty to ponder. Harewood is spellbinding and Charles Edwards as the silky socialit novelist Vidal – his fame today, if he still has any, rests on his novel Myra Beckenbridge perhaps, but like Buckley he was a big fish in the sea back then – delivers an amazing silky smooth performance, every in the grand old queen of the roost.
Best of Enemies, which I saw in preview, not that you would know as everything seem to go perfectly will set audiences talking, but it would be far more interesting if the events were not so distant and not so alien. All the same it does make one ponder about the power of television to shape our ends and careers.
William F Buckley: David Harewood.
Gore Vidal: Charles Edwards.
Emilio Doorsingh, Clare Foster, Tom Godwin, John Hodgkinson, Justina Kehinde, Syrus Lowe, Kevin McMonagle, Sam Otto.
Director: Jeremy Herrin
Set & Costume Designer: Bunny Christie.
Lighting Designer: Paule Constable.
Sound Designer: Tom Gibbons.
Video Designer: Luke Halls.
Composer: Benjamin Kwasi Burrell.
Movement Director: Shelley Maxwell.
Production photographs: Wasi Daniju
ight of television to shape events and careers.