By Neil Durham
WORTH A LOOK?: *****
WHEN?: Saturday 19 November (matinee), running until 18 February 2023
So, cards on the table, we’re huge fans of author James Graham but chose not to see this on its run at the Young Vic last winter because its subject matter failed to fire our imagination.
- Read on for reasons including how Quinto in particular makes a dazzling West End debut in this riveting new play
We’re here in the front row in part because Graham’s travails across the Atlantic partially for Ink (Almeida Theatre) and more recently for new musical Tammy Faye, which we saw at the Almeida again for a 2nd time this week, have hit home.
You join us in 1968 in the US as a failing TV network is looking at revolutionising its political coverage of the Republican and Democratic conventions by introducing opinionated pundits, the success of which changed the landscape of the medium forever.
It’s a period of turmoil and social unrest which saw the assassinations of President John F Kennedy and activist Martin Luther King and was similarly mined by the tremendous film Elvis earlier this year.
Graham’s focus is on a series of increasingly explosive TV debates between the Conservative William F Buckley and the Liberal playwright Gore Vidal as the audience grows for a conversation that exposes a country divided by its views on race, sexuality, class and Vietnam.
It’s riveting stuff and we particularly enjoyed Zachary Quinto making his West End debut as Vidal here and capturing the essence of a vain gay man who is hilariously erudite and espeically skilled at getting under the skin of David Harewood’s Buckley who struggles to maintain his temper as his right wing views unravel live on national TV.
We go behind the scenes with both men as Buckley is coached by his wife and Vidal by 2 male lovers and they are encouraged to read up on the backgrounds of their adversaries as millions more tune in to their entertaining, illuminating and often funny debate.
Graham is adept brilliantly at honing in increasingly on TV pivotal moments which change the national mood and 1st came to our attention with the captivating This House (Garrick Theatre) and latterly TV’s Brexit: The Uncivil War and play Labour of Love which we also saw at this theatre.
If we had 1 note it would be that Graham criticises the lack of balance in the new discussion medium yet gives more airtime to Vidal to explain himself rather than Franklin although this may in part be due to how the debate concludes.
The supporting cast features characters familiar from the time including Aretha Franklin and Andy Warhol and we make spcial mention of Syrus Lowe who is spellbinding as author James Baldwin while John Hodgkinson also makes his mark playing the very different Chicago mayor Daley and ABC anchor Howard K Smith.
The colour-blind casting of Harewood is an interesting choice which perhaps makes some of the less palatable arguments he is making verbally appear more acceptable.
Best Of Enemies was nominated for a Best New Play Olivier this year losing to Life Of Pi which is running at the nearby Wyndhams and closes in January and also won the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Best New Play in 2022.
Best Of Enemies fully deserved its standing ovation at this preview so don’t be surprised if both it and the hilariously spot-on Quinto don’t feature further in the future in our forthcoming awards shortlist.
- Main picture via Facebook courtesy Delfont Mackintosh Tickets
- Have you seen James Graham plays/musicals before and what did you think of this 1? Let us know what you thought in the comments below
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