New play from James Graham
Political Debate 1968


“The US government prefers that public money go not to the people but to big business. The result is a unique society in which we have free enterprise for the poor and socialism for the rich.”

Gore Vidal

David Harewood as William F Buckley and Charles Edwards as Gore Vidal (Photo: Wasi Daniju)

While the USA’s two main political parties were choosing their presidential nominees in 1968, ABC Television hosted political debates between the left wing novelist Gore Vidal and the right wing commentator William F. Buckley.  The two men loathed each other.  Their exchanges were erudite, witty, and sometimes brutal, and they did wonders for ABC’s ratings.

Playwright James Graham specialises in turning real political stories into drama.  His play This House turned into gripping theatre the story of the 1974-9 Labour government’s struggle to survive with a tiny majority.  

This one gets off to a rollicking start, with the cameo appearance of a gloriously smug and self-regarding Tariq Ali, and a management meeting at the television company where the executives are required to exercise before the meeting and to stand during it, to oxygenate their brains. 

In the debate scenes, the actors speak the words that Vidal and Buckley actually spoke. Outside the debates, they confer with their advisers about how to beat the other man, and – vain in a way that only television can make people – they protest to the network that the other man is getting more of the camera.

Charles Edwards is a wonderful Vidal – dazzled by his own cleverness, but with an awful lot of cleverness to be dazzled by; witty, subtle, serpentine, but at the end sincerely horrified by the cruelty and unfairness of the sort of America his opponent promotes.

Tom Godwin, Emilio Doorgasimgh, Kevin McMonagle, John Hodgkinson in Best of Enemies (Photo: Wasi Daniju)

I was less convinced by David Harewood’s Buckley, and by the relationship between the two, though Harewood is a fine actor and gets the tone and gestures right. Buckley comes across as humane and moderate, contrasting with the arrogant establishment liberal elite represented by Vidal. 

That conflict is what gives this play its urgent relevance to today’s politics.  So it’s important to understand that the perception is a lie.  Yes, Vidal was well connected, with the Kennedys in particular.  

But Buckley was even more of an establishment figure. A conservative and a libertarian, a Catholic, the son of a massively rich oilman, an opponent of all welfare programmes, he was sent to Britain to an elite Jesuit-run Catholic public school where he acquired his aristocratic drawl and fondness for Latin tags. He had worked for the CIA, and he was, in a discreet, genteel way, racist.

It was the great lie of the time that he was somehow an outsider, as it is the great lie of our own time that Donald Trump is an outsider.   

The rest of the cast all have to play several parts.  They are all good, and the best  is John Hodgkinson, playing a louche and self-absorbed television presenter and the appalling political thug Mayor Daley of Chicago. Flawed it may be, but Best of Enemies is gripping, absorbing, funny, and dreadfully relevant to today’s politics.

The Company of Best of Enemies (Photo: Wasi Daniju)

Production Notes

Best of Enemies

Written by James Graham

Inspired by the documentary by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon

Directed by Jeremy Herrin



Emilio Doorgasingh

Charles Edwards

Clare Foster

Tom Godwin

David Harewood

John Hodgkinson

Justina Kehinde

Syrus Lowe

Kevin McMonagle

Sam Otto.


Director: Jeremy Herrin

Designer: Bunny Christie

Movement Design: Shelley Maxwell

Composer: Benjamin Kwasi Burrell

Lighting Designer: Paule Constable

Sound Designer: Tom Gibbons

Video Director: Luke Halls



Running Time: Two hours and 25 minutes with an interval

Booking to 22nd January 2022



Young Vic

66 The Cut


London SE1 8LZ

Tube/Rail : Waterloo/Southwark

Telephone: 020 7922 2922


Rail/Tube: Waterloo, Southwark

Reviewed by Francis Beckett

at the Young Vic

at the matinée

on  11th December 2021