As he did with Charles III, Mike Bartlett’s latest work The 47th imagines near-future power struggles, this time looking across the pond at the upcoming election and a possible repeat face-off between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. With the latter’s stint as the 45th US President still in recent memory — and a very real possibility of both standing again in 2024 — is this play, to paraphrase London cabaret legend Desmond O’Connor, too soon — or not soon enough?
Bartlett will soon have three plays on in London. His Cock is already on display at the Ambassadors Theatre and Scandaltown opens later this week. Sandwiched between them is this satire which succeeds despite — not because — of the writing. Bartlett’s curious choice to use Shakespeare-style blank verse is more alienating than attractive, and the many insightful comments and wickedly biting insults are spat out in a format which seems more smug than smart.
But the acting is, in general, superb and should garner awards. Bertie Carvel, with the aid of heavy prosthetics, is an utter triumph as Trump, a snarling beast of a man forever on the offensive (“even though you’re all so liberal/you judge me by the colour of my skin/not cool, not cool”).
Lydia Wilson plays his scheming daughter Ivanka as his polar opposite — calm, far-sighted and impossibly beautiful. Opposite them, Tamara Tunie’s Kamala Harris and Simon Williams’ Joe Biden are highly convincing.
Director Rupert Goold is no stranger to working with Bartlett or Carvel (the three worked on Charles III) and he keeps the action, in the main, pacy and vibrant. Bartlett’s script has aspirations to be some kind of King Lear/Henriad-style opus but is still a work-in-progress (Obama appears in the playtext but is absent in this version) and drags at points during the two-hour runtime.
Even in its current form, though, this is a highly enjoyable and intelligent play.
The 47th, The Old Vic, tickets from £23, until 28th May