Donald Trump, already a “caricatured villain” to some, is “transformed into an electrifying caricature of Shakespearean mayhem” at the Old Vic, Quentin Letts said The Sunday Times. As in Mike Bartlett’s earlier work, King Charles III, the 47th is set in an imaginary near future – in this case, a US election where President Biden has resigned in favor of Kamala Harris and Trump (Bertie Carvel) plans to win the Republican nomination from Ted Cruz.
The play is written in Cod Shakespearean blank verse. Bored in Florida after being evicted from the White House, Trump says, “From now on four years of lonely exile, lo and behold, I begin my just vengeance.” Heralds come and go, and there are echoes of Richard III, Macbeth and Julius Caesar in action. It doesn’t all work, but what makes the play so “refreshing” is that it takes Trump seriously. This isn’t just a lazy attack on a demagogue; Bartlett acknowledges “something of his voting genius” and tries to shed light on his calling.
Ah, the Shakespeare play that came to mind was A lot of noise about nothing, Dominic Cavendish said in The Daily Telegraph. Director Rupert Goold has made everything smooth and shiny, and Carvel is sensational as Trump. But it’s an unsatisfying brew; The plot borders on the “absurd” and there are moments when the production feels more like an extended student “sketch” than a meaty drama.
Bartlett has tried to have things both ways, David Benedict said in diversity: He has tried to weave “sharp taunts and jokes” into a “serious, elaborate portrait of the dangers of American democracy” — and he fails. Still, its sheer “boldness” – combined with some gripping performances – counts The 47th “rarely less than entertaining”.
Carvel’s train alone is “worth the price of a ticket,” agreed Susannah Clapp The Observer. This is “less of an imitation than a reincarnation, as if Carvel himself had vanished entirely and in his place something that appears scarcely human – a wax model perhaps – has been given tangible life”. It’s funny, scary, scary and plausible: it’s an unmissable performance.
The Old Vic, London SE1. Until May 28th
https://www.theweek.co.uk/arts-life/culture/theatre/956512/the-47th-old-vic-theatre-review The 47th Theater Criticism | The week Great Britain