Review Roundup: Mike Bartlett's THE 47TH at the Old Vic

The Trump-inspired play runs through 28 May, 2022.

By: Apr. 11, 2022
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The 47th

The Old Vic just celebrated opening night of the world premiere production of Mike Bartlett's viciously funny The 47th, directed by Rupert Goold and co-produced with Sonia Friedman Productions and Annapurna Theatre.

It is 2024 and as America goes to the polls, democracy itself is on the brink. Who takes the White House - and at what cost? The team behind the multi award-winning King Charles III reunite for The 47th, a chaotic glimpse into the underbelly of the greatest political show on earth - the next presidential race.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Cindy Marcolina, BroadwayWorld: A severe, intense lack of depth pervades the piece. From a dazed Biden to a reluctant Kamala who only steps up for the good of the nation; from Trump's backstabbing sons to Ivanka's rebranding as astute hand, Bartlett's attempt at the humanisation of the American political élite falls short.

Arifa Akbar, Guardian: There are some delightful lines in Bartlett's script nonetheless and it is in these moments that the play sparkles: an incarcerated Trump in an orange jumpsuit gives his jailtime a PR spin by claiming it will endow him with a "cool Mandela feel" in the eyes of the people. His slanging matches and put downs of Biden, who he calls an "elderly wizard". His eulogy of Machiavelli's The Prince although he admits he hasn't read it all because it was too long: "Someone summed it up, and it made sense." And the moment when Harris tells Trump that his legacy is a farce: "You will be mocked if ever you will be remembered," she says, and this play proves her point.

Nick Curtis, Evening Standard: Carvel's performance is uncanny, if parodic. He perfectly captures Trump's physical tics - the mewling lips, the prissy gestures - as well as the carping, monomaniac bleat. There are terrific performances too from a charismatic Tamara Tunie as Harris, promoted to president when Simon Williams's doddery Joe Biden falls mysteriously ill after shaking Trump's hand at Jimmy Carter's funeral: and from an icy Lydia Wilson as Ivanka, a ruthless dominatrix Barbie with ironed hair and a wardrobe full of bodycon dresses and spike heels.

Anya Ryan, Independent: Writer Mike Bartlett has crafted an epic. Like his 2014 play King Charles III, The 47th is an imagination of a future world. The year is 2024, and Trump is having another bash at the presidency. But, while the play's events feel eerie in their potential realism, Bartlett's form is, crucially, theatrical.

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut London: 'I know, I know, you hate me' declares the virtually unrecognisable Carvel at the outset, as he trundles on to Miriam Buether's sweeping thrust set in a golf cart. The 44-year-old actor is virtually half Trump's age, and yet the transformation is uncanny: there's the blonde wig and the fat suit, of course. But his mannerisms are the same. His jowls, somehow, are the same. And his way of speaking is just remarkable - even bound up in Bartlett's Shakespeare-style verse, Carvel absolutely nails Trump's weird mixture of thuggish malevolence and effete high society camp. Within the Shakespearean fantasy realm that Bartlett and director Rupert Goold have constructed, he absolutely is Trump.

Demetrios Matheou, Hollywood Reporter: The play is at its strongest in suggesting the continued erosion of American Democracy that a returning Trump would offer - the man simply picks up where he left off, by extending the Capitol insurrection to a nationwide scale and calling for "flames of freedom." The presence of an unruly mob, including the QAnon Shaman (Joss Carter), is truly chilling. Bartlett then considers what effect this would have on the principled Harris, clinging to her belief in due process while under considerable pressure to play dirty herself.

Sam Marlowe, iNews: Carvel's turn is uncanny, from the corpulent bulk and tiny flapping hands to the pouty, rubbery beige lips, the avaricious, lizard-like gaze and ludicrous swirl of nicotine-yellow hair. Yet in this dystopian vision of the near future - it imagines Trump trying to get back into power in the next presidential race - where's the meat? The plot is a grotesque soap opera, all greasy poles and dirty deals; as America descends into anarchy, a bug-eyed, rebel-yelling craziness takes hold in scenes that, like the 2021 Capitol riot, feature a cavorting, horned shaman, and wouldn't look out of place in The Purge.

Marianka Swain, London Theatre: Ultimately, Bartlett's play, though vastly entertaining, neither offers fresh wisdom on the past nor grapples with the future; there's no mention of Covid or Ukraine. It places accepted truths into striking poetry - "Party lines have grown to walls" - but its warnings come far too late, and with the smug benefit of hindsight. Trump gets the last laugh here.

Christopher Day, Open Letters Review: While it's the raw power struggle that dominates this play, it is also infused with humour. Whether the jokes will resonate with audiences in the US remains to be seen but here, where we are only indirectly affected by the chaos of American politics, there is a perverse comedy to Trump and his interactions. There's a running joke about orange juice - 'I won't forget the orange juice, that's rude, just rude' says Trump - and a hilarious conversation referencing Nelson Mandela. Miriam Buether's two-tiered set generates opportunities for laughter from the very beginning, when Trump emerges in his golf buggy, but also tries to do too much, relying on gimmicks (like the rotation of the lower tier) that serve no purpose.

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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