Best of Enemies ★★★★★ Noël Coward Theatre | Until Feb 18, 2023

It is usually long after an empire ends that historians sift out the reasons for its decline and demise. In Best of Enemies James Graham traces the current problems of the American polity to 1968 and the atmosphere surrounding the conventions of that year which selected the two presidential candidates. The decision by ABC, the least popular national television network, to include as part of its coverage debates between the novelist and playwright, Gore Vidal, representing the left, and William F. Buckley Jr, author and political pundit, representing the right, is seen to begin the decline of news into entertainment and the rise of current ideological ghetto media such as Fox television. Similarly, the two formerly "big tent" parties become increasingly ideological. The Republicans come to represent a libertarian conservatism that appeals to an alienated underclass, and the Democrats find themselves caught between the old left concerned with protecting workers and supporting social mobility and a new left advocating for minority rights and social justice. Vidal and Buckley are the gadflies representing these two political poles and both enjoy the celebrity culture that is developing around them. These two adversaries are ably played by Zachary Quinto and David Harewood. Quinto gets the waspish Vidal down pat while Harewood has a more difficult challenge portraying the notorious tics and mannerisms of the imperious Buckley. Both performers shine in the so-called debates and artfully expose the vulnerabilities of their characters in the glimpses into their personal lives. Their outstanding performances are matched by a strong cast playing a multitude of American personalities from the era. For us, a stand out was Syrus Lowe's James Baldwin who acts as a moral centre of the work. The two-level set and video design are simply superb and Jeremy Herrin's direction never missed a beat. If you have ever wondered how we got to this political place, you need to see Best of Enemies.

Rated: ★★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Johan Persson.

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