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I’ve been to see James Graham’s ‘Best of Enemies’

A stage play inspired by a documentary film about some political television debates from 1960s America doesn’t feel intuitively like it would have much to offer. One could reasonably assume that the effect would have been dulled and flattened by the distance in time and multiple re-interpretations from the source material.

Yet, this was exhilarating. Graham’s script dramatises the US debates between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr on the ABC network, programmed around the Republican and Democratic national conventions. It explores the behind-the-scenes drive within ABC to stage these debates—it’s about ratings, as ever it is—as well as the personalities and motivations of Vidal and Buckley.

Zachary Quinto and David Harewood were excellent in this production at London’s Noël Coward theatre: both are famous for other roles, but fairly unknown to me. The staging was inspired, using live projections to make relevant scenes at once theatrical and televisual.

Graham presents this series of debates as the source of all personality and opinion-led discussion of politics on television. Clever scripting—much of it seemingly based on well-chosen verbatim quotes—draws parallels with current politics. The whole play felt immediately relevant to modern politics and media… though the time-jump at the end felt a bit like it rammed that message home harder than was necessary.

Yet, the script as a whole was definitely the biggest star here, cleverly combining direct quotations and zingy, catty one-liners with urgent questions about society’s approach to politics.

I really enjoyed this.


Best of Enemies’ continues at the Noël Coward theatre until 18 February.

This post was filed under: Post-a-day 2023, Theatre, Travel, , , , , , , .

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