Best of Enemies - London

Best of Enemies review round-up at the Young Vic, London ★★★★

Reviews are starting to come in for new play at the Young Vic Best of Enemies – which is rumoured to be getting a West End and Broadway transfer.

David Harewood (Homeland, Blood Diamond, Supergirl) plays William F. Buckley Jr., and acclaimed actor Charles Edwards (The Crown, Downton Abbey, the forthcoming TV adaptation of The Lord of the Rings) plays Gore Vidal in this political play by award-winner James Graham (This House).

The play is inspired by a 2015 documentary about the TV debates in the 1960’s between Buckley Jr and Vidal, with their witty, biting clashes of politics and culture proving hugely entertaining, and scarily prescient for the future of political debate and US TV news.

Did the critics love James Graham’s new play? Here we go…

Average Critics Rating

Best of Enemies reviews

The Evening Standard

"Dynamic new play from James Graham deals in arresting ideas"

"James Graham traces the culture wars back to a series of 1968 TV debates - and the parallels are undeniable"

"In this stimulating, freewheeling new play, James Graham traces today’s culture wars back to the TV debates between conservative commentator William F Buckley Jr and the patrician, liberal gay writer Gore Vidal during the Republican and Democrat conventions of 1968. If the political parallels between then and now sometimes feel too on the nose – concerns about social justice, or freedom to protest - it’s probably contemporary reality that’s at fault rather than Graham and his director, Jeremy Herrin."

"Harewood is tremendous as Buckley, finding a dignified core beneath the man’s posturing and extravagant facial tics. There’s a frisson when the character interviews Enoch Powell about race, but you pretty soon forget about skin colour. Charles Edwards’s Vidal, meanwhile, is a monster of silky complacency whose “waspish spontaneity [is] always rehearsed”. He’s also deliciously flustered and inarticulate when Buckley finally finds his weak spot."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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i News

"James Graham serves up another thrilling, slyly humorous knockout"

"David Harewood and Charles Edwards offer a masterclass as intellectual monster egos William F Buckley and Gore Vidal, jousting in a TV clash that changed the way we view politics"

Fiona Mountford, i News
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The Times

"James Graham’s captivating drama is raw and timely"

"Here come the gladiators. We’re used to seeing partisan talking heads tear lumps out of each other on television or Twitter, but James Graham’s captivating new play harks back to an era when the gloves first came off. Sad to say, I’m not sure Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr’s names mean much to British audiences under the age of, say, 50. Still, this Headlong co-commission has turned them into the central figures of a parable about how the media sold its soul in the pursuit of ratings."

Clive Davis, The Times
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The Telegraph

"Witnessing the birth of televised political discussion as blood-sport"

"James Graham's dramatisation – at the Young Vic – of the game-changing 1968 Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr debates packs a real punch"

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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"David Harewood and Charles Edwards are phenomenal in James Graham’s love letter to America’s chaotic late ’60s"

"Jeremy Herrin’s production for Headlong and Graham’s script bring all this to vivid life: rather than a straitlaced ‘Frost/Nixon’ style set up, ‘Best of Enemies’ explodes with colour and characters, a cyclone of ideas with the Vidal/Buckley clash its eye. Bunny Christie‘s vivid, flexible TV studio set is a thrill, Tom Gibbon’s occasionally cartoonish sound design a kinetic hoot, Syrus Lowe at the very least walks off with best supporting actor for his magnificent turn as the frail, poised, devastatingly perceptive James Baldwin, and John Hodgkinson is horribly magnetic as Chicago’s foul-mouthed, mob boss-like Mayor Daley. "

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
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The Stage


"Taut political docudrama showcases thrillingly combative performances from leads David Harewood and Charles Edwards"

"Director Jerremy Herrin – who previously collaborated with Graham on the equally astute political drama This House – gives the show a poised, polished presentation. His large cast circulates purposefully through the space, shifting personas as slickly as the action shifts between distant locations, momentarily channelling notable figures from the tense era. Andy Warhol photographs guests at a cocktail party, Walter Cronkite ponders journalistic responsibility, and Enoch Powell incites populist bigotry even as civil rights activists demonstrate in the streets."

Dave Fargnoli, The Stage
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The Guardian

"James Graham’s superb study of media and politics"

"David Harewood and Charles Edwards go head-to-head as William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal respectively in an enthralling play based on a 1968 TV debate"

"At one very enjoyable level, Best of Enemies is – in the line of earlier Graham work and Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon – historical karaoke, recreating verbatim choice ideas and insults from the studio duels. The roar of complex thoughts and challenges to orthodoxy is so enthralling that it makes Radio 4’s Today programme sound like CBeebies.

But Graham and director Jeremy Herrin (with characteristic pace and clarity) crucially give this media archaeology a contemporary framing. The most striking modernity is casting. Charles Edwards’ Vidal delivers a near-perfect soundalike and acceptable lookalike, while Buckley, who can be seen as the epitome of a privileged white right-winger, is portrayed by the black British actor David Harewood. He exactly captures every aspect – drawl, lolling posture, facial tics – of the Republican’s awkward broadcasting persona, except for one element in the room."

Mark Lawson, The Guardian
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Theatre Cat

"James Graham’s mission might seem unfashionable: trawling 20c history and public culture, looking not for villains and heroes but for the nuances of human behaviour, the nature of argument and the futility of hating or “cancelling” an opponent rather than listening, and valuing the fact that they are fallible human beings shaped by idiosyncratic forces and habits of thought, just like you. He did it with MPs, with Labour loyalists, with tabloid hacks and the very Murdoch himself; he did it with possibly-cheating quiz contestants and their TV exploiters. He bends his eye on them, recreates, wonders, tries to understand, and without unsubtly banging the drum delivers lessons for today. "

" It’s an entertaining, instructive, questioning, honest play, with a downbeat and moving end as the two men might speak after their death."

Libby Purves, Theatre Cat
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The Financial Times

"Best of Enemies — James Graham’s gripping culture-war drama"

"It dramatises the 1968 televised debates between William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal which electrified the public"

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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"Behind the Scenes of 1968’s Revolutionary TV Debates"

"For so sophisticated a writer, there are surprising lapses in subtlety. He and Herrin entertainingly show how this audience-grabbing moment of TV gold brought a wrecking ball to television and to democracy. But a little too much is stated rather than suggested. In his stronger work — “Ink”, “This House” — his perspective is there to be gleaned. Here, it’s spelled out."

David Benedict, Variety
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📷 Main photo: Best of Enemies at the Young Vic

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