Best of Enemies at the Young Vic
On first looking at the debate between William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal, one can hardly help but notice how political discussions have deteriorated in recent years – there’s no doubt the presidential debates during Trump vs Biden were complete fiascos. But then Buckley vs Vidal ends up on similar terms, with the opponents throwing unnecessary slurs at each other. In that respect, it’s almost as though little has changed.
And that’s where the power of Best of Enemies by James Graham lies: it highlights the foundational points and problems on each side of the debate, and shows how little the underlying philosophies have changed, with a lot of the talking points from the late 60s still plaguing us in 2021. Graham’s writing is refreshingly unpartisan, giving both sides a few fair shots and yet highlighting the problems in both philosophies.
The play is based on the 2015 documentary of the same name by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon and captures much of its acute observations. Of course, large parts of the discussion are necessarily abridged, but the issues at hand are still presented with astonishing clarity. It’s a fantastic overview of the entire spectacle and the surrounding events, and with a stunning cast, with David Harewood as Buckley and Charles Edwards as Vidal, it never ceases to impress.
The production itself is equally solid. Director Jeremy Herrin gathers a spectacular cast of creatives, including sound designer Tom Gibbons and set and costume designer Bunny Christie, both of whom introduce some subtle and atmospheric magic. Video designer Luke Halls occasionally has the actors perform at the same time as videos of their real-life counterparts are projected into the background, delivering the same speech. It’s quite impressive and adds immensely to the play’s feeling of authority.
As such, it is clear that Best of Enemies is a magnificent exploration of a debate between two political heavyweights of the late 60s – a conflict is still very much raging on today. It is a fascinating topic with brilliant acting and a stunning production. A hit from start to finish.
Best of Enemies is at the Young Vic from 9th December until 22nd January 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.