Best of Enemies – review

“The lead actors were superb at bringing to life this moment in time and captured the essence of egoism and the human craving for validation through fame and popularity, beautifully”
Young Vic
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Review by: Ronke Lawal
Published: Tuesday 14th December 2021, 11:11am

David Harewood and Charles Edwards in Best of Enemies (c) Wasi Daniju
David Harewood and Charles Edwards in Best of Enemies (c) Wasi Daniju

Best of Enemies is set in 1968, a tumultuous year in Western global history but particularly so in America. A year when radical thought leadership and political sentiment divided the country. It is a time in history that many of us here in the UK will have heard about but mainly through the major breaking news stories – the war in Vietnam, the assassination of key political and social figures, mass protests.  However, there was one historical moment that changed the way the western world not only viewed politics but consumed it.

Despite the heavy themes covered within the play there were more than a few comedic (not slapstick) moments

The Company of Best of Enemies (c) Wasi Daniju
The Company of Best of Enemies (c) Wasi Daniju

An infamous series of debate between the “cunningly conservative” William F Buckley Jr. (David Harewood), and the “iconoclastic liberal” Gore Vidal (Charles Edwards) was televised on the then waning ABC channel during major party-political conventions and televised to the masses of America.

“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.” A format that brought us into a new realm in the media landscape which transformed western TV forever and is still as relevant today as it was back then.

Charles Edwards and Sam Otto in Best of Enemies (c) Wasi Daniju
Charles Edwards and Sam Otto in Best of Enemies (c) Wasi Daniju

The incorporation of the television studio style on set gave the audience an intimate insight into the inner workings of the way in which this medium works – the pressure to fulfil viewing targets with little consideration to the impact of what the messages would have on viewers. I enjoyed the flash back historical moments of key figures of that time particularly James Baldwin played by Syrus Lowe and Andy Warhol played by Tom Godwin. Despite the heavy themes covered within the play there were more than a few comedic (not slapstick) moments which offered light relief and the cast merged well together.

The lead actors David Harewood were superb at bringing to life this moment in time and captured the essence of egoism and the human craving for validation through fame and popularity, beautifully – opposite politics but the same human desire of self-satisfaction.

Syrus Lowe, Kevin McMonagle and Emilio Doorgasingh in Best of Enemies (c) Wasi Daniju
Syrus Lowe, Kevin McMonagle and Emilio Doorgasingh in Best of Enemies (c) Wasi Daniju

This Headlong/Young Vic co-production, written by James Graham and directed by Jeremy Herrin is a strong piece of work with solid performances across the board. The lighting, costume and stage design really brought the story to life, but I struggled to connect with the premise of the play. It felt at times like a lot was happening in the first part of the play – the second part felt more cohesive but my connection with the characters was just not there. I appreciated learning something new about American history but perhaps my propensity to learn more American history has reached its peak. 

Still worth going to see – perhaps read up on Vidal and Buckley before you go.

Clare Foster and Tom Godwin Best of Enemies (c) Wasi Daniju
Clare Foster and Tom Godwin Best of Enemies (c) Wasi Daniju

Cast includes Emilio Doorgasingh, Charles Edwards, Clare Foster, Tom Godwin, David Harewood, John Hodgkinson, Justina Kehinde, Syrus Lowe, Kevin McMonagle and Sam Otto.

NEED TO KNOW: Best of Enemies is at the Young Vic until 22 Jan 2022
Emilio Doorgasingh, Kevin McMonagle, Syrus Lowe and John Hodgkinson in Best of Enemies (c) Wasi Daniju
Emilio Doorgasingh, Kevin McMonagle, Syrus Lowe and John Hodgkinson in Best of Enemies (c) Wasi Daniju

REVIEW OVERVIEW
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Best of Enemies is set in 1968, a tumultuous year in Western global history but particularly so in America. A year when radical thought leadership and political sentiment divided the country. It is a time in history that many of us here in the...best-of-enemies