Best of Enemies review: Pushing the boundaries of what can be done on stage

Hate the shouting matches that make up the political debates on modern television? Yes, you can blame Gore Vidal (Charles Edwards) and William F Buckley Jr (David Harewood) for that. Way back in 1968, before the US election in which Richard Nixon would be elected and the Republicans regaining power, these two invented an entire “liberal vs conservative” format of debate. Every day at the political parties’ convention, commentators Vidal and Buckley will examine each other’s politics and personalities in a hugely popular television format. This culmins in a showdown to end all wits, in which Vidal calls Buckley a “crypto Nazi” and Buckley replies, “Now you sound weird, don’t call me is the crypto Nazi, or else I’ll throw you in the fucking face”, All pretense of politeness gone.

The best of the enemy, a co-production of Young Vic and Headlong, tell this story while pushing the boundaries of what is possible on stage, as playwrights James Graham has always done. Where is he Who wants to be a millionaire? dramatic Quiz built-in game-show elements in which the audience electronically votes whether they think the ho expert did it or not, The best of the enemy once again the pinnacle of design innovation. Bunny Christie’s set shows three rooms hovering above the stage, acting as a TV control room overlooking the set and the TV screen itself. Original footage of famous speeches, from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” to Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood,” is shown here, while actors on stage read the words verbatim. those words.

But for a show that’s technically slick throughout (and has an incredibly impressive cast), the most thrilling moments come during televised debates, when archival clips are replaced with A live feed is being filmed on stage. Somehow this is the second show that I reviewed this week used this technique, but it never looked like a gimmick here. With his face inflated behind, every growl, eye roll, and concealed panic was quickly exposed. In particular, Harewood’s Buckley is a performance rooted in facial expressions, with the actor sticking out his tongue and only half smiling as the commentator himself did.

In theory, these two men couldn’t seem further apart, but it’s the actors’ ability to highlight their similarities that make the show so enjoyable. As Vidal, Edwards has effortless beauty and confidence – it feels like he was born for the role. Harewood is charming, but Buckley is clearly the more difficult part of the two, with the line between spearhead conservative and thin-screen performer at many points. The real-life Buckley is also white and is known for his anti-civil rights, pro-discrimination views. Harewood admitted that he initially turned down the role because it “makes no sense,” and while his casting was fun and imaginative, his performance was also a bit nervous. It worked during the live TV setup, but you couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t 100% comfortable in the role.

Bunnie Christie’s photography is a complex visual delight

(Wasi Daniju)

The best of the enemy open and close in our modern times, to remind us of the devastating impact this moment will have on the political television landscape. But we can hear parallels between the ’60s and today in the scenario, when Buckley calls those who opposed the war in Vietnam “college elites” and conservatives “multiple”. numbers are silent” and Vidal warns of ecological collapse and problems in the food supply chain. When interpreting it with this framing device, some subtleties were omitted. Audiences understood that this was a history-making moment, because we’re still feeling the effects of reducing politics to “light entertainment” today – less ripples, more tsunamis. repeat.

‘Best of Enemies’ runs at Young Vic until January 22, 2022

https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/reviews/best-of-enemies-review-young-vic-david-harewood-b1973620.html Best of Enemies review: Pushing the boundaries of what can be done on stage

Emma Bowman

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