17 November 2022
BEST OF ENEMIES (Noël Coward Theatre) Review

This is a West End transfer of last year’s production at the Young Vic.  Check out the review of the original run here for some background details, but, essentially, play gives us a “behind the scenes” view into the televised debates between William F. Buckley Jr. (a conservative author and political commentator) and Gore Vidal (a cheeky liberal novelist) that took place during the 1968 Republican and Democratic conventions, ultimately turning incredibly ugly during the latter.

This play/production is clearly not for everyone.  It’s a reshuffling of political and cultural events in American history, and plenty of people will find it extremely dull.  That said, I enjoyed it a fair bit, which is a credit to David Harewood (who pretty much carries the play), Jeremy Herrin (whose direction keeps things moving at a good pace), and John Hodgkinson (who has a couple of roles, all of which leave you in stitches).

I liked Harewood just as much if not more compared to the original production.  Buckley isn’t a nice man, but Harewood gives him enough humanity to make him feel like a genuine person (even though things that come of his mouth are pretty grim).  I heard Harewood say (not during the show, obviously) that he thought he’d absolutely hate Buckley, but then decided to try and understand him as a person rather than give into the preconceptions.  It definitely shows, and he is an absolute joy to watch.  Having seen bits of the debates, Harewood is dead match for Buckley’s manerisms and tone.  You’d think that Harewood being black would somehow clash with Buckley being a white racist, but Harewood is so good, he just dissolves into the role.

Zachary Quinto… I didn’t really know what to expect not having seen him in much of anything.  In contrast to Charles Edwards (who, in the Young Vic production, made Gore sound clever and cheeky yet grounded), Quinto’s Vidal is a bit of a stand-offish know-it-all who you just want to punch so to wipe the smugness of his face. Comparing the two, I certainly prefer Edwards’ representation of Vidal.  That said, I actually watched some of these debates online and, off the back of those, firmly stand by my original view:  whilst Vidal does have a whiff of superiority about him, he is not smug or aloof, and nor is he talking down to/at Buckley, and so Edwards was far more spot-on here than Quinto, who is pushing the disdain angle a bit too far.  He plays it almost as if Vidal doesn’t want to be in the debate, whereas, in the recordings, Vidal rather seems to enjoy this opportunity to stick it to everyone else.  I hope Quinto relaxes into the role as the show continues, as that will balance the two man a bit better.

The rest of the cast was thoroughly engaging and entertaining.  James Graham’s script was really nicely done because it didn’t require any prior knowledge of the subject matter.  A good show all around.

Cheapskate enjoyment value: £5.

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