We take a look at what is being said about the West End run of James Graham’s play directed by Jeremy Herrin.

Credit: Johan Persson

Broadway World: **** “While Best of Enemies is doubtlessly a big, snazzy West End production that rivals the spectacle of the original debates, the attention to detail is astonishing. Harewood reprises Buckey’s ticks and cocky, uptight demeanour while Quinto toys with Vidal double-breasted tidiness and socialite loquaciousness. They share an elegant, sophisticated, deliciously watchable cattiness.”

Time Out: **** “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. In a way, it’s an unimaginably different time, one where TV broadcasts were a communal event, handed down to a public whose main way of responding to what they saw was by simply switching on or off (the kind of blunt measure today’s Twitter-obsessed decision-makers must dream of).”

Evening Standard: ***** “The play’s decoding of the way politics, media and fame interact has deepened since its original run at the Young Vic in 2021. No one under 60 will remember the debates, or what Vidal and Buckley stood for, but Graham stitches them back into the wider context of the Vietnam War, student demonstrations, racial tensions and the assassinations of John and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr, with great finesse.”

City Am: “It’s all reliant on the two main men, and Homeland actor David Harewood gives a powerful performance as Buckley. Returning to the role he premiered last year, his interpretation is so ferocious it sometimes feels as if he’d rather spit his lines, and there’s obvious power in watching a Black man playing a White guy with a racist tongue. Star Trek actor and Hollywood star Zachary Quinto makes his West End debut as Vidal, but doesn’t quite find his charm. He gives a confident performance, but Quinto’s Vidal is steelier than the man himself, lending him an energy that feels too close to Buckley’s character and doesn’t convey the warmth of the American writer. I think it’s this similarity that can dilute the potency of some elements of the dialogue when the two are on stage alone.”

The Guardian: **** “Originally staged in 2021 at the Young Vic and based on a 2015 documentary, this West End transfer is well-oiled and still feels enveloping and immersive. The writer has made small changes to the script, which has Graham’s wide socio-political scope and sharp humour but intellectual depth, too.”

British Theatre.com: **** “The result is consistently engrossing and entertaining, with some fine performances, expertly integrated sets, and a text that sticks to the verbatim record when the camera is running in the studio and elsewhere opens out the background to situate this encounter within the crowded, chaotic events of 1968.”

The Arts Desk: **** “In fact, Graham’s writing is pointed enough that you can trace, without assistance, a direct line between the collapse in civility that bookends his account of the televised goings-on and the thoroughgoing surrender to vitriol, and worse, that shapes public discourse just now. You can’t imagine either Buckley or Vidal shouting “lock ‘er up”, even if comparable sentiments were clearly brewing not far from the surface, as Buckley’s uncharacteristic surrender to ad hominem invective makes clear.”

The Reviews Hub: **** 1/2 “Reprising his role as Buckley, David Harewood is on tremendous form in a part he seems to relish, and you can feel the audience responding to the performance. His Buckley is incredibly charismatic and determined to be dignified but Harewood charts the early setbacks, Buckley’s renewed vigour in Chicago and the breakdown of civility well.”

London Theatre.co.uk: **** “Most interestingly, Quinto makes it clear that Vidal’s emotional detachment is a necessary armour: rejecting the world before it can reject him, for his queerness or anything else. When he’s forced by events to abandon that detachment, it’s a genuinely shattering moment. Perhaps it’s too reductive to say that Quinto, who has spoken passionately about his own sexuality and gay rights, has more of a personal investment here. But however he arrived at this nuanced and moving performance, it makes it well worth revisiting the play.”

The Upcoming: ***** “If your television set also occupies a central place in the house, you too can witness proof of how prominent and influential the aforementioned medium – together with the little screens we carry in our pockets – is on our language and beliefs. James Graham has picked up his pen again to adapt for the stage one of the earliest media acts that determined the inflammatory nature and relevance of televised rhetoric, and hence the consequential impact on viewers. “

All That Dazzles: ***** “Jeremy Herrin’s direction creates a show that is always interesting to watch with bold choices that consistently pay off. James Graham’s writing borders on genius as per usual, taking the verbatim dialogue and fleshing out the characters with an authentically imagined way only he can.”

The Stage: **** “Triumphant transfer for James Graham’s slick, sharp drama of politics and the media.”

The Telegraph: **** “Zachary Quinto is a pitch-perfect Vidal in the West End transfer of Best of Enemies.”

Theatre Cat: “It is marked, like all James Graham’s work, by real humanity: a sense that people tearing lumps off one another in public or grasping for ratings are just humans, however imperfect.  As a play it never flags and there are memorable cameos:  brawny John Hodgkinson doubles as the senatorial anchorman Howard K.Smith and an unforgettable roaring, ranting Mayor Daley of Chicago. Syrus Howe is a thoughtful James Baldwin, and as Aretha Franklin Deborah Alli belts out the Star-Spangled Banner like a torch song,  to the horror of the old-school conservatives. Even if you have no special interest in or memory of 1968, and resist British obsession with American politics, go and see it. Well worth it. And horribly enjoyable.”

Best of Enemies continues to play at the Noel Coward Theatre until the 18th February 2023. To book tickets click here.

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