Politically relevant new play by James Graham at the Young Vic delivers in all departments with high production values. Set in the volatile year of 1968 America, the play tells the story of broadcast network ABC’s televised debates between William F.Buckley and Gore Vidal. The two rivals were invited on to save ABC’s dwindling ratings and in doing so ushered in a new age of American politics which moved away from well-informed journalists and political experts and towards celebrity punditry.
Performances are strong across the board. Syrus Lowe deserves a special mention for his accurate portrayals of Martin Luther King Jr and James Baldwin. John Hodgkinson does a wonderful job as anchorman Howard K Smith mediating between the two huge characters of Buckley and Vidal and a stellar job at depicting a pantomime worthy villain in Mayor Daley. The company as a whole work like a dream, every movement and gesture precise and considered.
The role of race in Best of Enemies is an interesting and nuanced one. The conservative republican is a black rich man with a white prim wife who interviews Enoch Powell on his very own show with perfect civility. James Baldwin’s writings punctuate scenes and provide a rich philosophical sincerity to the script cutting through the pretence and showmanship of Buckley and Vidal.
In the round staging gives the play a real sense of being in an American studio with the audience becoming an extension of the set. A grey box on the balcony provides a second stage for establishing behind-the-scenes commentary which makes for truly satisfying moments of theatre framing the main action happening down below.
Philosophical at its heart and thoroughly entertaining. Charmingly American without shying away at self-scrutiny with the casual racist and homophobic slurs sprinkling the dialogue. It is a shame however that women are poorly represented, they are pretty and quick-witted playing bit parts. Nonetheless, a clever story with a neat plot providing social commentary of the world we find ourselves in today post-Trump and post-Brexit.
Whether or not you are familiar with the events and characters in 1968 America or today, universal themes are touched upon and delivered in an entertaining and accessible way. But if you aren’t clued up, this play is a wonderful introduction to a pivotal time in modern political history.
Review written by Tasnim Siddiqa Amin.
Best of Enemies is currently showing until Saturday 22nd January 2022 at the Young Vic. To find out more about the production, visit here…