(Rebecca Mead’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 4/11; Mike Bartlett Illustration by João Fazenda.)

A few years ago, the British playwright Mike Bartlett offered an ingenious take on future events in “King Charles III,” a drama that appeared in the West End, and then on Broadway, about the Royal Family in the imagined wake of the death of Queen Elizabeth. Startlingly, but somehow entirely aptly, its characters spoke in blank verse: “My life has been a ling’ring for the throne,” Charles soliloquized in the first scene. When the curtain rose last week at London’s Old Vic on Bartlett’s new play, “The 47th,” a very different head of state was center stage, announcing himself to the audience in iambic pentameter: “I know, I know. You hate me. So much, right?”

In “The 47th”—the title refers to whoever will come after Joe Biden, the forty-sixth President of the United States—Bartlett again employs Shakespeare’s idiom to fashion a contemporary succession drama. “I’ve known for a while that Trump was sort of a Shakespearean archetype, in the way that Charles was,” Bartlett explained the other day, during a break from rehearsal. “Charles is the man who waited: he waits his whole life to be king, and then he’s only got a short period, so what’s he going to do with it? And Trump, as a sort of seductive, show-biz, bitter, iconic figure, is also quite Shakespearean—quite ‘Richard III.’ ” It was only after the storming of the Capitol, in January, 2021, that Bartlett felt inspired, he said, to give the former President the stage from which he had been ushered in the election of 2020, and to set the play slightly in advance of the 2024 election. “After that happened, I realized American democracy, as a project, is in jeopardy,” Bartlett said. “So it’s not just about: how does one defeat Trump? It’s: how does one engage with that?”

The cast is a mix of British and American actors: Trump is played by Bertie Carvel, who won an Olivier Award for his performance as Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda” and a Tony for playing Rupert Murdoch in “Ink”; Kamala Harris is played by Tamara Tunie, who appeared in more than two hundred episodes of “Law & Order,” as the medical examiner Dr. Melinda Warner. To capture the forty-fifth President’s distinctive speech patterns, Bartlett watched hours of rallies and debates—just kidding! “I didn’t have to listen to any—I’ve heard enough,” Bartlett said, grimly. He salted his text with Trumpisms, especially in the early scenes. “It was so beautiful, so many jobs,” Trump says of the economy during his tenure. But, Bartlett explained, “as the narrative comes through, and the characters come through, some of that drops away.”

Instead, “The 47th” playfully riffs on Shakespearean rhythms and tropes. In a “Lear”-like setup in the first act, Trump discusses dividing his fortune among his three older children: Don, Jr., who models himself on his namesake (“I am your mirror, father. Donald named / And Donald Trump in bloody nature, too”); dopey Eric, “a sniv’ling wreck with little sense,” as Eric himself puts it; and cunning Ivanka. “Your rightful heir will never beg, but trade” is Ivanka’s response to her father’s entreaty for loyalty, before Trump declares that a three-way split “feels not aligned / With my philosophy: to find the art / Within the deal.”

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