The Theatreguide.London Review
Old Vic Theatre Spring 2022
The Donald Trump of Mike Bartlett’s satirical play The 47th isn’t quite the Trump we recall stumbling through his strange disturbing Presidency.
This one, impressively performed by Bertie Carvel, has the same physical look and distinctive sound to his voice but speaks mostly in blank verse. He also often manages to sound knowingly witty and intelligent.
When his rampaging supporters result in him being locked in prison during his 2024 Presidential campaign, he observes that it gives him ‘a cool Mandela feel with a long walk to freedom’ adding that Lin Miranda might decide his musical Hamilton should be renamed Trump.
Explaining how he was successful in business by a combination of charm and fear, he refers to Machiavelli, getting a laugh when he adds that of course, he hasn't read it because it's too long.
The blank verse isn't the only echo of Shakespeare. In an early scene we are reminded of King Lear when he asks three of his children what they can do for him and seeming to accept Ivanka’s (Lydia Wilson) ‘nothing’, he adds ‘Don't get me wrong - your arse is something else.’
Later at a rally where he is due to endorse Ted Cruz (James Garnon) as the Republican Presidential candidate, his speech takes on the style of Mark Anthony speaking to the crowds in Julius Caesar with the repeated line of ‘Ted is an honourable man’. That event ends with rowdy supporters chanting for Trump to accept the nomination.
Biden (Simon Williams) gets into the Shakespearian act as a sort of Lady Macbeth by night, ‘walking while asleep’, mumbling to himself anxiously as retainers follow him, worrying about what he might accidentally reveal.
In another link to King Lear, gangs of Trump supporters blind one of the other characters.
Such horror is not typical of the play. The first half keeps the audience laughing from the moment it opens with Trump driving onto the stage in a golf cart. The second half becomes more disturbing with its echoes of the January 6 storming of Congress by angry Trump supporters.
There is no doubt this show is entertaining, but it is also very superficial. Apart from Trump, the characters are barely sketched, and though Trump dominates the stage, we never get any insight into his character or the social forces which created him.
The opposition to Trump is depicted as a remote liberal elite. Arguing with Kamala Harris (Tamara Tunie), the Democratic Party candidate for the presidency, Trump says ‘You don’t get why they despise you. It's not the wealth. It's that you don’t listen and treat them like children.’
An even cruder stereotype of ordinary Trump supporters as vicious inarticulate thugs seems a missed opportunity to see something more real about the over 74 million people who voted for him in 2020. Of course, if that is the reality, then Mike Bartlett and I better go into hiding.
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