The 47th review: Bertie Carvel’s hypnotic Trump is a whirlwind, career-defining performance

Mike Bartlett’s new play, set in 2024 with Donald Trump gearing up for a second shot at the presidency, is a riff on Shakespearean tragedy with a punchy contemporary angle

<p>Bertie Carvel as Donald Trump in ‘The 47th'</p>

Bertie Carvel as Donald Trump in ‘The 47th'

As soon as Bertie Carvel’s Donald Trump drives his golf buggy into eyesight, there’s a sense we’re watching something remarkable. Buried under orange-stained prosthetics, Carvel is unrecognisable. Hunched and puckered lipped, he is the full embodiment of the 45th president – with rigid hand gestures, a blond-dyed quiffed hairstyle and all. More than just an impersonation, though, this is a whirlwind, career-defining performance. “I know, I know, you hate me,” Trump clacks at us. We might – but not for one second can we look away.

Writer Mike Bartlett has crafted an epic. Like his 2014 play King Charles III, The 47th is an imagination of a future world. The year is 2024, and Trump is having another bash at the presidency. But, while the play’s events feel eerie in their potential realism, Bartlett’s form is, crucially, theatrical.

Written in blank verse, it is a riff on a Shakespearean tragedy. Like Lady Macbeth, a disturbed Joe Biden (Simon Williams) sleepwalks as he mutters his worries about running for another term. When he gathers his offspring to decide which one gets the reins of his empire, Trump mimics King Lear. Only in soliloquy does Kamala Harris (Tamara Tunie) reveal her bubbling ambition to rise to the country’s top job. There’s a nagging feeling it’s all a bit too similar stylistically to his royal drama, but Bartlett knows it works.

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