Imagine MacBeth, King Lear and Donald Trump mashed up in one blank verse (unrhymed iambic pentameter to you and I) drama where the White House is the new Trump Towers and the media the new battleground. All the world’s truly a stage here, with dashes of Trump breaking the fourth wall Richard III- style.
The 47th imagines the next election race between Biden and Cruz in 2024 — only really it’s between Kamala Harris and Donald Trump, with the Trump progeny lurking in the background. The real-life characters are beautifully realised by the cast. Trump as played by Bertie Carvel is part Richard III and part horror, and yet we laugh — should we be?
I never expected in 2022 to be watching a political play where Donald Trump drives on in a golf buggy and plays golf infront of me! Beware if you are in the front stalls — you will struggle to see due to the raised stage, may get a golf ball flying at you and will be covered in red, white and blue ticker tape at some point! (Not to mention the very spitty Trump at points).
Biden seems reluctant to carry on, especially when Trump threatens to reveal something nasty about Biden’s wife Jill, and yet is committed to his duty. (All gone Julius Caesar now!) Kamala Harris yearns for more for do and is shocked when suddenly asked to step up to cover Biden as the 47th President. At a support speech for Cruz, Trump ‘responds’ (or manipulates) the audience into calling for him to return, whilst appearing to demur modestly. At the end, the ceiling reigns down ticker tape and patriotic ticker tape reigns down. Banners supporting Trump are flung over the box balconies!
All is not well in Team Trump. Cruz has been struggling to work out what Trump wants him to say; Heidi (Cruz’s wife) refuses to be in the same room as Trump and does get to make her point to him soundly later on. King Lear style, Trump encourages his three children to pitch for being his successor — like Cordelia, his daughter Ivanka refuses to speak, saying that her love should be enough. She is the one who wins. Ivanka will also work hard to keep her siblings in order later on and toeing the family party line.
In a televised debate chaired by a woman between Kamala Harris and Donald Trump, Trump will neither respect the debate format, let Kamala Harris speak nor respond to the chairwoman. Somehow his rudeness and disrespect appears honest and charismatic. His body-focused relationship with Ivanka is creepy to the extreme and her revenge almost a MeToo moment on point. Just as with the invasion of the Capitol, Trump appears to celebrate the rights of the average citizen, whilst positively encouraging civil insurrection (and the filming of their ‘partying’.
This leads Kamala Harris to a ethical/moral dilemma. How do you respond to someone who won’t play by the rules? She is reluctantly forced to call a curfew and eventually to arrest Trump, whilst negotiating behind the scenes with his sons to get the rioting civilians to stand down in return for their immunity. They also appear to be taking out the opposition, Russian style, (with Maga hats placed on properties to protect them).
A strange thread which is never quite clarified or resolved is the brother of the chauffeur. The chauffeur loves Trump as an idol and object of worship and introduces her brother to a far right group. He could be a spy — a BBC reporter is amusingly, but threateningly, removed from their meeting. When the brother doesn’t want a part of this, he is pursued by the Shaman — he keeps voicing his objections and fact checking. This is apparently not the done thing — guns are!
And well, the Shaman character. A grotesque caricature of Native American ghost dancers, American patriotic symbols and Fascism as seen waving banners, guns, Confederate flags and lecterns about in the Capitol invasion in 2021 — this character embodies the spirit of the Maga and infects others with his own ‘power’ including Ivanka, whilst terrorising others.
All is tense in the Team family. Trump has militarised up and created a nasty tight fitting ‘Private Benjamin’ dress for his daughter to wear. He threatens to shoot her (just because he could get away with it) and seems about to turn on her, accusing her of failing him whilst he was in jail. Worst of all he wants to go for a drive to see his supporters at work and pick up some women on the way. He creepily seems to want more affection from his daughter than is appropriate, verging on abusive. What will Ivanka do as Trump seems to suspect her of betraying his stand? He gives a nasty speech accusing her of emotional womanly ways and will replace her as his political heir (if not his financial one) — yet it is he who tantrums, screams and shouts in rage.
Unexpected moments are Trump ending up in hospital following a fatal driving accident; Kamala and Trump sparring in his imprisonment and Ivanka’s strange (yet threatening) allyship with Kamala by the end. Also King Lear style a colleague of Kamala’s loses their eyes. Kamala Harris’s challenge throughout has been trying to apply rationale and logic (and rule of law) to someone who appears to act illogically and be unintelligent, yet is incredibly appealing and charismatic, and who unrepentantly ignores the rules and the law. What do you do if the people don’t see through someone who is clearly a nightmare for democracy and for a lot of people?
Strangely missing from this drama are Trump’s other daughter Tiffany; his son Barron and any of his wives, especially former First Lady Melania Trump (she isn’t even mentioned in passing). Given that Heidi Cruz and Jill Biden are included, Melania missing is odd — though perhaps this was done for the dynamic of Trump vs Harris contrast. Given that Barron would be approaching his majority at this time, surely he could have added to the sibling tensions.
Moving is the doctor’s speech as they care for Trump and talk about the impacts of his policies on them during COVID times. Yet the play challenges us about our own ethics and morality. At the beginning, Trump praises us for our liberal hate of him (because it is pure and unfiltered) and almost celebrates it, enjoys it. The doctor and Kamala contemplate letting Trump die (Kamala has him resuscitated against medical advice) — making them just as unethical and law breaking as he is. Do we become like the things/people we hate?
Praise should also be given to Ivanka’s stage wardrobe and high heeled shoes — it was fascinating to see both Bertie Carvel and Lydia Wilson relax out of character for the bows at the end. (Their faces looked completely different!)
Overall I think this play is fair to both sides; Simon Williams shows the weaknesses of Biden as well as his strengths; the personalities of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden; it looks at why Trump is so compelling to so many people (and the paranoia, corruption and conspiracy mindset that follows Trump) and why it seems so hard to stand against him — both within his own party and those in opposition to him. I think it would have been a more interesting play with Melania there too!