The 47th - The Old Vic
I only went to see The 47th on the back of positive feedback from other theatregoers and critics. It wasn’t so much a case of sidestepping anything to do with Donald Trump, but rather scepticism that a theatrical production on contemporary American politics could possibly be any more riveting than watching actual television news. Staying at home and watching CNN would have been less of an inconvenience, both financially and geographically (both branches of the Northern line had closures – good old ‘engineering work’), but there were some generous doses of humour in the portrayal of various characters.
Being in the front row – it was ‘restricted view’ but less than half the price of the most expensive stalls seats, ice cream was being sold in the interval directly in front of me. So I got up, took two steps forward, and bought myself a little treat. By the time I had turned back to my seat, some woman had opened my bag. I didn’t see what she was looking for, but she slunk away as quickly as she had appeared, without neither apology nor explanation. I suppose there would have been enough witnesses around if she had taken something, but it was very bizarre.
I only worked out afterwards what she was up to: at the start of the play, a prop (deliberately) falls off the stage. The lady next to me had put it in her handbag for safekeeping and gave it back to the theatre when one of their staff came over at the end of the performance and politely asked for it. So our wannabe thief came away empty-handed. And what would she do with a golf ball putted by Trump (Bertie Carvel)? And why didn’t she just ask for it?
A similar question is asked of Trump by Kamala Harris (Tamara Tunie), after yet another display of misogyny. If he wants something, he has a buzzer. He could just press it rather than screaming the house down. His explosions of anger come late in the evening’s proceedings – which is fair enough: had he lost his temper in Act One (of five), there would be nowhere for the character to go. Quite cleverly (well, in my view, anyway), the show covers both Trump’s personal and political lives – and of course, the two intersect regularly. President Biden (Simon Williams) is in such a bad way he sleepwalks, and while it’s never revealed precisely what it is that Trump knows about his wife Jill that might prove detrimental if he went to the press and spilled the beans, it’s enough for him to step down from the presidency altogether.
President Harris, as she therefore becomes, is portrayed as someone who quite literally hasn’t got a clue about what to do unless she takes advice from, well, advisers. General Taylor (Ben Onwukwe) and Tina Flournoy (Cherrelle Skeete) suggest a plan of action so ridiculous and un-American to Harris she responds with, “He [Trump] is not Hitler!” It’s all very Shakespeare-esque, with speech in iambic pentameter, and unsubtle nods to King Lear and Julius Caesar. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when Trump asks his daughter Ivanka (Lydia Wilson) if she has read Machiavelli’s The Prince. “I’ve not. It’s long. But someone summed it up, and it made sense.”
A Shaman (Joss Carter), and much of the pro-Trump grassroots activism, is very much reminiscent of the events of 6 January 2021 in Washington, D.C., a desperate attempt to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election. Perhaps that is what the play is suggesting – the sort of people that carried out such attacks would do so again if Trump were to run again in 2024 (and lose again) – history repeats itself and all that. The chilling thing about this production is that too much of it, while sufficiently hilarious in the theatre to justify the ticket prices, could feasibly happen. Gulp.