Reviews are coming in for Best of Enemies at the Noel Coward Theatre in London, which opened last night, 28 November 2022.
Hollywood and Broadway star Zachary Quinto and acclaimed British actor David Harewood star in the West End transfer of James Graham’s (Quiz, Sherwood, Brexit: The Uncivil War, Ink, Tammy Faye) award-winning play.
Best of Enemies had its world premiere at the Young Vic Theatre in December 2021, and runs at the Noel Coward Theatre in the West End until 18 February 2022.
The play is already an award-winner, scooping the the South Bank Sky Arts Award 2022 for Best New Theatre Production, the Critics Circle Theatre Award for Best New Play and two Olivier Award Nominations.
David Harewood (Homeland, Super Girl, Ten Percent) reprises his role as the right-wing figurehead William F. Buckley in the play, with Zachary Quinto (The Boys in the Band, Star Trek, Heroes) as liberal icon Gore Vidal, and other cast including Deborah Alli, Emilio Doorgasingh, Clare Foster, Tom Godwin, John Hodgkinson, Syrus Lowe, Kevin McMonagle and Sam Otto who will each perform multiple roles within the play including Andy Warhol, James Baldwin, Patricia Buckley, Howard Austen, Aretha Franklin and Martin Luther-King. The ensemble includes David Boyle, Lincoln Conway, Vivienne Ekwulugo, Jamie Hogarth and Saaj Raja.
Set in 1968, a year that sees protests divide America, two men fight to become the next President. But all eyes are on the battle between two others: the cunningly conservative William F. Buckley Jr., and the iconoclastic liberal Gore Vidal. Beliefs are challenged and slurs slung as these political idols feud nightly in a new television format, debating the moral landscape of a shattered nation. Little do they know they’re about to open up a new frontier in American politics, and transform television news forever…
The creative team for the production includes Director Jeremy Herrin, Designer Bunny Christie, Lighting Designer Jack Knowles, Sound Designer Tom Gibbons, Video Designer Max Spielbichler, Composer Benjamin Kwasi Burrell, Movement Director Shelley Maxwell, Casting Charlotte Sutton CDG and Jim Carnahan CSA, Voice and Dialect Coach Hazel Holder, and Associate Director Annie Kershaw.
More reviews for Best of Enemies to follow.
Best of Enemies reviews
"James Graham’s play is as searingly insightful as ever"
"This look at the corruption of modern political discourse is dynamic and intoxicating"
"James Graham’s dynamic, intoxicatingly thoughtful play traces the corruption of modern political discourse back to 1968. Specifically, the adversarial televised debates between the gay, liberal writer Gore Vidal and the conservative polemicist William F Buckley Jr during the Republican and Democratic Presidential conferences that year, which culminated with the two men calling one another “crypto-Nazi” and “queer”, live, to 10 million homes."
"The play’s decoding of the way politics, media and fame interact has deepened since its original run at the Young Vic in 2021."
"David Harewood reprises his superlative performance as Buckley, finding dignity in the man’s pomposity and extravagant facial tics. That a black actor is playing a patrician, white conservative initially adds an illuminating filter to the play’s themes. Before long, Harewood’s skill and charisma supersede such thoughts. This time he’s opposite US actor Zachary Quinto as a purringly self-satisfied, borderline-cruel Vidal – less charming than his predecessor in the production, Charles Edwards, but ultimately much more vivid."
"An enthralling political pub brawl"
"... James Graham’s pundit wars drama explores the moral and cultural battles of the Sixties — and unlike so many recent political plays, it tries to be fair to right and left."
"If you wanted to be ultra-critical, you could point out that Jeremy Herrin’s production has lost a smidgin of its kinetic energy in the transfer from the open spaces of the Young Vic — where it opened last year — to a traditional proscenium arch. But that’s a mere quibble. This bold and intelligent piece — based on a 2015 film documentary of the same name — still hurtles along like a sophisticated graphic novel as it explores how TV news chased ratings by throwing confrontational talking heads into the mix."
"If Charles Edwards was superb as Vidal at the Young Vic, the Hollywood star Zachary Quinto actually goes one better: he’s even more arch and narcissistic, preening himself in front of his male lovers and his cocktail party admirers."
"Best of Enemies isn’t just a treat for political geeks: it’s a compelling human drama, as wild and unruly as the decade it brings so passionately to life."
"James Graham’s monumental ’60s drama transfers, with tremendous performances from Zachary Quinto and David Harewood"
"The great thing about a James Graham play is that you go in with only the haziest ideas about the twentieth-century political moment he's picked as his subject, but come out two-and-a-bit hours later buzzing with its personalities and conflicts and stories. And 'Best of Enemies' typifies that feeling, alighting on the relatively niche subject of telly debates in the run-up to the US 1968 Presidential election, and making it completely lucid and vital."
"Still, casting a Black actor in the role of a white conservative does muffle the impact of Buckley's debates with visionary Black American writer James Baldwin: famously, the two argued across America's deep racial divides in a landmark 1965 University of Cambridge debate, with Buckley advocating for segregation while Baldwin offered a powerful indictment of white America."
"Jeremy Herrin's final production as artistic director of Headlong is bright, clear and well-served by Bunny Christie's design, which beautifully echoes the rounded edges of the '60s telly screens which relayed all this drama to an audience at home."
"The original culture-war punch-up on stage"
"Best known for his Spock in the Star Trek films, Zachary Quinto is a pitch-perfect Vidal in the West End transfer of Best of Enemies"
"This is welcome intellectual stimulation to counter festive frivolity, and, helping to justify some steep ticket prices, Zachary Quinto – best-known for playing Spock in three Star Trek films – makes a spellbinding UK stage debut as the debonair Vidal."
"What it does do, with the physical self-composure of both lead actors a major plus, is impart an adrenal sense of two heavyweights under intensifying pressure, their battle of wits and egos compounded by vying visions for America. In the outbreaks of swirling ensemble activity and movement around them, you get enjoyable blasts of energy and nostalgia, but also a visceral, all-too-current sense of a country so in the grip of social and ideological upheaval that it’s on the brink of a total breakdown."
" Stylish staging of a landmark TV clash"
"The 1968 debate between Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr is depicted with verve and feels uncomfortably up-to-date"
"James Graham’s fabulous, frenetic play concerns the clash between Gore Vidal, speaking for the New Left, and William F Buckley Jr on the New Right, in the lead-up to the presidential elections. It seems to trace a line from that moment to the birth of pugilistic, celebrity-led TV politics that feeds our culture wars, fuels Twitter’s silos and has enabled the likes of Donald Trump (as it is heavily hinted) and Matt Hancock of the jungle."
"In a production directed by Jeremy Herrin, some of those associations seem strained, but this is a fascinating moment captured with immense intelligence and verve."
"Both actors are restricted by the highly stylised roles they play, but they never become impersonations. That is partly because the verbatim aspect of the script contains so much genuine, articulate anger and clashing ideologies that they hold us rapt."
"James Graham’s fizzingly astute drama, in a production by Jeremy Herrin transferred from the Young Vic, zeroes in on an important staging post on our journey to a world in which the revolution will not only be televised, but fought in hashtags and memes as much as on the ground."
"Herrin’s production, as briskly cross-cut and vividly eye-catching as any prime-time commercial broadcast, kicks off at the climactic moment of verbal assault. Zachary Quinto’s Vidal and David Harewood’s Buckley face off against Bunny Christie’s backdrop of a trio of giant TV screens, their antipathy both personal and political."
"All of this is as stimulating as it is richly entertaining. If the play has a flaw, it is that Graham is a little too keen to package its ideas for us: a last-minute device in which a present-day media analyst appears to deliver her appraisal of the themes feels joltingly blunt. Otherwise this is smart, sparkling writing, in a production that, for all its high-gloss surface, carries the distinct and familiar acrid whiff of smouldering discontent."
"Five stars for Best of Enemies, a scintillating, perfectly-timed play"
"James Graham’s show is a hit"
"James Graham’s brilliant play Best of Enemies had its premiere at London’s Young Vic in 2021: a year that had been rocked by the attack on the US Capitol. It would be nice to report that it feels less resonant on its West End debut. But if anything, this astute analysis of a divided America and a polarised public discourse is even more timely. It remains one of Graham’s finest plays to date: a scintillating exploration of the toxic relationship between politics and popular culture in the modern world."
"As the two men slug it out, Jeremy Herrin’s riveting production introduces a swirling sense of the late 1960s and a battle royal between the forces of conservatism and those of change."
"Graham’s play is impishly theatrical, drawing in the audience and emphasising the communal nature of live theatre as an antidote to silo mentality. In a touching epilogue, the two men meet again to reflect on the way personality politics and performative outrage now dominate public life. It’s an exhilarating piece of theatre, nailing where we are and how we got here — and implicitly pleading for something better."