The 47th: Trump grotesquely brought to life

Bertie Carvel as Donald Trump in The 47th at The Old Vic

Bertie Carvel as Donald Trump in The 47th at The Old Vic - Credit: Marc Brenner

The 47th
The Old Vic
****

In the darkest days of Donald Trump's presidency, some perhaps fantasised about an act of God or medical emergency carrying him off.

It seems playwright Mike Bartlett was thinking along those lines as he speculated on how the next US election might shake down.

Like his other future history play, Charles III, The 47th is part penned in verse, liberally references Shakespeare, and reunites Bartlett with director Rupert Goold. It's a playful fever dream about the corrosive impact of populism and social media on democracy, featuring a grotesquely lifelike turn by Bertie Carvel as the orange-hued panto villain who rocks up in a golf buggy with the taunt: "I know you hate me."

It's 2024, and after a Lear-like challenge to his three children over who who will inherit (Ivanka natch) Trump blindsides Ted Cruz's Presidential run Julius Caesar style, activates his dissatisfied mob of fans, and goes head to head with Tamara Tunie's strong, dignified Kamala Harris after she's handed the presidency by a doddery Joe Biden.

Tamara Tunie as Kamala Harris in The 47th at The Old Vic

Tamara Tunie as Kamala Harris in The 47th at The Old Vic - Credit: Marc Brenner

Snort out loud humour soon curdles into serious issues about the manipulation of the mob, and whether it's ever justified to lock up a political opponent. Goold directs with brio – making us part of Trump's comeback rally and subsequent riot – although he overkills the demented shamanic dancing.

There are flaws; Bartlett's bid to explore why Trump's supporters love him involves an under baked sub plot about siblings on either side of the ideological divide. And pitching Kamala as Trump's pure-hearted opponent risks a West Wing-style deification of The Democrats, when surely the problem with US politics is they're only one notch in venality from The Republicans.

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Perhaps it's Bartlett's fantasy of a brighter future than Lydia Wilson's chilling watchful, clever Ivanka who stalks the set in sky high heels waiting to make her play. Certainly he suggests the loveless, needy Trump is as likely to be done over from within as without – but whether smugly gurning, spewing bile or shredding his brilliantly wimpy sons, Carvel chews up every chance to remind us that Trump is alive and eager to become the 47th.

Joss Carter as the Shaman in The 47th at The Old Vic

Joss Carter as the Shaman in The 47th at The Old Vic - Credit: Marc Brenner

The 47th is at The Old Vic until May 28.