THE 47TH - MIKE BARTLETT’S DAMNING INDICTMENT OF TRUMPISM HOLDS NO PUNCHES
By Charlie Lewis
‘Should acts in other times I would abhor,
Become my own, in times of bloody war?’
We’ve all seen a multitude of Trump impressions by this point: some master the tactless and meandering speech, others the restless hands. However, you would be hard pressed to find a better holistic embodiment than that of Bertie Carvel in the first production of The 47th, mastering not only the idiosyncrasies in voice and gesture but capturing the very presence and gravity of Trump. The malignance exuded by Bartlett’s heightened and unleashed Donald provides the perfect antagonist upon which to base this unapologetic political fever dream.
The 47th takes place in Bartlett’s dramatized leadup towards the 2024 election, where Trump and Kamala Harris go toe-to-toe. It is not a realistic prediction of events, but a warning sign of the untamed danger Trumpism presents to democracy. Presumably inspired by the Storming of the Capitol, we watch Kamala Harris (Tamara Tunie), face the rising anarchy spread by the far right, questioning how far integrity can take you when the opposition stoops to unreasonable lows. Written in sharp and delicious verse, Bartlett once more makes reference to Shakespeare. We see notes of Richard III in Trump soliloquising, Lear in Trump’s confrontation with his children, and even Lady Macbeth in a Biden sleepwalk scene.
The set was wonderful – effective use of projection and lighting allowed the Oval Office-inspired stage to transform into a fierce political arena (at one stage a projection of distorted US flags was used to signify the bars of a jail). What’s more, a whole ensemble of strong performances rose the drama to disturbing heights. Lydia Wilson’s icy and unflinching Ivanka Trump and Freddie Meredith’s delightfully slow Eric Trump provided both a dark horse potency and comedy respectively, not forgetting Jos Carter as the tribal QAnon Shaman, a symbol of the Republican anarchy.
Some have criticised the lack of character substance found in this play when compared to the complex psyche-analysis in Charles III. Yet, this clearly misrepresents the aim of the play - namely a political warning inspired by witnessing Trump’s presidency and subsequent refusal to abandon it. It delves less into the interpersonal and more into the political, and is driven by a personal necessity to forebode rather than to ask questions of the individual. In this, it certainly succeeds, while keeping you hooked but disturbed through the entire experience. That is why I didn’t mind the rather overt references to Shakespeare, for the message is not meant to be esoteric and accessible only to the few. What some have called a play done ‘too soon’, I think as perfectly timely and important.
That is not to say the play is perfect. A slightly underbaked side plot could be improved, and the tribal Shaman scenes needed to provoke a more visceral reaction from the audience. Yet, Bartlett certainly succeeded in his aims. What’s more, an electrifying performance from Bertie Carvel would make even the worst play enjoyable - it is therefore definitely worth the watch.
The 47th ran in the Old Vic until the 28th May. It was written by Mike Bartlett and directed by Rupert Goold.