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West End’s Best of Enemies Clashes Dynamically, Expertly, and Intelligently



Landing in London earlier that day, I didn’t know how prepared we were for Best of Enemies, the new play meticulously written by James Graham (This House) that is currently playing at the Noël Coward Theatre in the West End until February 18, 2023. Directed with a sharpness that draws blood by Jeremy Herrin (St. Ann’s/NT’s People, Places & Things), the play thrusts forward a pivotal moment in history, and not just television history. It plays out a conflict when “running out of time” clashed live and loud on camera between two sides of a testy political argument that still rings on today. Based on Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s 2015 documentary, this West End transfer from the Young Vic in 2021, Best of Enemies flips its dynamic channel into the “Firing Line“, broadcasting a particular moment for the whole country to decipher and ingest, when conservative views ran head first into liberalism, delivering an impressively captivating punch-theatrical event, worthy of all the awards this production is receiving and the excitement it delivers.

Digging deep into the intellectual and historical, as James Graham likes to do, this electric production ignites as good or even better than Ink and This House, both of which found dynamic intensity inside Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the Sun newspaper and parliamentary divisions in the era of Thatcher. This go-round boxing match focuses the camera on the onscreen clashes between the New Left liberal, Gore Vidal, played to perfection by Zachary Quinto (Broadway’s Boys in the Band), and the staunch conservative, William F Buckley Jr, played by the powerhouse David Harewood (Young Vic’s Peribanez). It is when CBS executives decided, as a way to boost their flagging ratings, to bring ‘opinion’ and debate to the news. And with that one shift in the structure of reporting and news giving, the world changed, fueling a kind of maddening descent, one that we are grappling with big-time in today’s divisive political landscape.

The cast of Best of Enemies. Photo by

On a spectacular camera-ready set, designed strong by Bunny Christie (Almeida Theatre’s Tammy Faye), Best of Enemies has an origin story, of a kind, to tell. Carving out glass boxes and multiple screens replaying the live action and adding sensational archive footage, courtesy of video designer Max Spielbichler (NT’s Afterlife), the play dynamically pulls us as if we are glued to the last episode of “The White Lotus“. It feels like event television. But this is history, more specifically, the lead-up to the 1968 US presidential nominating conventions and the election that soon followed. It’s a rewinding, back to that time when the assassinations of influential players dominated the news cycle, and caused a ripple effect that shifted the political landscape that is still being felt today.

This slice of conflictual history zooms in on a number of pivotal moments; speeches that changed the world, and protests that had lasting effects, underlining the tornado of emotional and ideological energy that flared up around these debates, building a fire that still can not be contained or put out. The play shoots from the hip, ringing forward all of the complications of that era to the forefront, with exacting lighting by Jack Knowles (West End/Broadway’s Caroline, or Change) and a captivating sound design by Tom Gibbons (Almeida/West End’s The Doctor). The point and shift in American politics and news programming become real, crystal clear, and powerfully dynamic, in the detrimental effect it had on our world and our political/social history. It ushered in celebrity obsession and angry conflict, that fed and overtook our culture, letting loose a horrific plague on all our houses, with one of the possible outcomes being that Orange Monster taking and trying to retake the White House.

Zachary Quinto and Sam Otto in James Graham’s Best of Enemies. Photo: Johan Persson.

Centering the action around these two equally detested political essayists, the battles shifted our focus from details to drama, making our television studios the place for National debate and grandstanding on a loud battleground scale. Inside two highly stylized, historical roles, the two leads never let history overwhelm their portrayals, somehow finding the humanity inside instead of bland impersonations on the out. Quinto is utterly fantastic and strong. Making his Vidal as snide and electric as can be. He finds inside a spectacularly convincing supervillain who talks from the left, dressed to the nines with a glass of champagne dangling in his leftist hand. His portrayal rachets up the bloody boxing match with Harewood’s Buckley simply by making Vidal’s’ swagger so compelling and different from his opponent.

Casting Harewood in the role of white rightwing conservative, Buckley, is a compellingly big gesture, finding the arrogance, fragility, and anger in the role, but adding the contrasting quality of race into the undercurrent picture. It works a kind of magic over us as we watch Harewood capture almost every aspect of Buckley’s privileged white man frame, except for the one we can’t deny, forcing us to play inside our own unconscious bias and comprehension about how race played a role in all this. The casting forces us to sharpen our eye on Buckley, and his wife, Patricia Buckley, played strongly by Clare Foster (Menier’s Travesties), and their view on race, a concept that is not addressed as succinctly as it could be. But it does resonate, particularly when unpacking the explosive debates between Buckley and James Baldwin, played well by Syrus Lowe (West End/Young Vic’s The Inheritance). The layers there are strong and intense.

Tom Godwin, Clare Foster, and David Harewood (on the right) in James Graham’s Best of Enemies. Photo: Johan Persson.

Recreating these dynamic interactions, verbatim insults galore, the energy in the theatre sizzles with its long litany of complex thoughts and arguments, especially around sexuality, race, intellectualism, and societal norms. “People like blood sports” it is said, and with the second half set at the Democrat convention in Chicago, where two sides of the same political party are tugging hard to win the way forward, mainly because of an assassination that shifted everything and a policy war going on outside (and inside) its doors, Best of Enemies keeps elevating the articulate anger while also lowering the discourse in that one key moment that we are teased with from the start.

This highly-stylized combative match of a play shoots out like an ideological slap that still stings from across the aisle. Graham, finding the clash fuel for a fantastically compelling interpretation of what follows, excels on multiple fronts giving us a Best of Enemies worthy of its history and its everlasting effect. That shift we are still doing battle with to this very day. And even though the Buckley-Vidal debates were a rating triumph for ABC, they changed the world forever, inviting, for example, the entertainment network, Fox News, to enter and play on the field of actual news reporting, further enhancing or detracting the interplay of media and politics. Just look at what Graham had to say about that in Ink, and we all know where that led. Best of Enemies is a well-crafted event, destined for lasting effect and remembrance. Let’s hope it makes its way across the pond and fills a Broadway theatre with that same edge. I know I’ll tune in again.

James Graham’s Best of Enemies at the Noël Coward theatre, London, until 18 February 2023. Photo: Johan Persson.

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My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to


The Olivier Awards Return



Celebrate the very best in British theatre in a star-studded evening as the Olivier Awards return to the Royal Albert Hall on April 2nd.

Three-time Olivier Award nominee & Primetime Emmy winner, Hannah Waddingham will be hosting the awards for the first time.

The event will feature performances from all of the Best New Musical nominees, including The Band’s Visit, Standing At The Sky’s Edge, Sylvia and Tammy Faye. Also performing will be Oklahoma! and Sister Act, both nominated for the Best Musical Revival award, as well as Disney’s Newsies, which has been nominated for Matt Cole’s choreography.

The multi-Olivier Award winner The Book of Mormon, will be performing to mark its ten-year anniversary in the West End. Additionally, special award winner Arlene Philips will be honored with a tribute from the cast of Grease.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on Magic Radio from 6pm with Ruthie Henshall and Alice Arnold hosting.

The highlights program will also be aired on ITV1 and ITVX at 10:15 pm in the UK and via Official London Theatre’s YouTube channel elsewhere.

And the nominees are:

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Out of Town

The Unpacking of the First Métis Man of Odesa, An Interview




Punctuate! Theatre is unpacking a love story. A love story about a couple. A love story about Ukraine. And a love story against an unbelievably complicated backdrop. Starting at The Theatre Centre in Toronto, the company is ushering forth the world premiere of First Métis Man of Odesa before it spins itself out on stages across Canada. Spanning continents and set against the backdrop of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Métis playwright and Punctuate! Artistic Director, Matthew MacKenzie (Dora Award-winning playwright for Bears, After the Fire, The Particulars) joins forces with his wife, the award-winning Ukrainian actress Mariya Khomutova (Odesa Film Festival Grand Prix – The Golden Duke award-winner NONNATwo People), to tell the story of their COVID courtship and share an intimate perspective on the personal impacts of the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Matthew MacKenzie and Mariya Khomutova.

Drawn from their real-life love story, a story that is ultimately still unfolding to this very day, First Métis Man of Odesa unpacks the journey of Matt and Masha’s love that spans continents where distance and conflicts can’t tame their passionate connection. After meeting on a theatre research trip in Kyiv, a spark is struck, and a romance between a Métis Playwright and a Ukrainian artist is ignited, taking them from the beaches of the Black Sea to the banks of the North Saskatchewan River, within the onset of a global pandemic, the eruption of a brutal war, but also the many joyous moments that this union begets, including marriage and the birth of their son.

During the height of the lockdown in 2021, an initial version of this piece was presented as a radio play at Factory Theatre, written by MacKenzie and directed by Nina Lee Aquino. This March, First Métis Man of Odesa, as directed by Lianna Makuch (Pyretic Productions/Punctuate!’s Barvinok), makes its stage debut, offering a compelling continuation of the initial story told in that first radio play. The couple, Matthew MacKenzie and his wife, Mariya Khomutova, sat down with Frontmezzjunkies and thankfully answered a few questions about their incredible journey from that first love-struck connection to its World Premiere at The Theatre Centre in Toronto.

Tell me, how you decided to embark on telling your own story and what the beginning of this creative process looked like for you two?

Initially, Matt wrote an audio play for Factory Theatre about our romance, then getting married and having their son during the pandemic.  The plan had been to expand the piece for the stage, a plan that took on much urgency after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Both the pandemic and war have a deeply dehumanizing effect, so our hope in telling our love story is to share the human side of these major world events; a human side that headlines and news clips can’t fully capture.

What aspect of your character, or your involvement with/creation of this play resonates the most powerfully inside you?

For both of us, the opportunity to share all the joy, humour, anger, and frustration we’ve experienced in the past few years is a really therapeutic process.  Many of our friends and family only know snippets of what we’ve been through, so the opportunity to tell our story across the country is one we are deeply grateful for.

The phrase “you don’t know what someone is carrying with them” has really hit home over the past couple of years, as we have had to contend with some pretty epic challenges as a couple and as individuals.

Tell me a bit about what it is like to bring your character to the stage? What does mean to you to be telling this story?

We play ourselves in the play, but we very much play versions of ourselves in the play.  We had to mine conflict between us out of a few outbursts, as there haven’t actually been a lot of [conflicts] in our relationship so that we could bring the drama of what we are going through to the fore.

Challenges of playing ourselves have included the fact that [Matt] is not a trained actor, while Mariya is. Mariya though comes from a theatre tradition that was almost entirely focused on the classics, so playing herself in a play based on her life is definitely a new and challenging experience!

Tell me a bit more about your development process? Was there a typical ‘first read’ or was it different, given your own story inspired the work…

We were able to conduct several development workshops over a period of six months.  There was no shortage of content that we could derive from our lives, so the challenge was determining what to keep and what to let fall away. Even after our first read, we cut 15 pages from our rehearsal draft.  Events in our lives and in Ukraine will no doubt continue to necessitate the evolution of our script.

What’s been the most challenging part of this process for you?

For Mariya, it was buying into the idea (that is quite a common one in Canada) that a play about someone’s real life can be art.  Seeing Hailey Gillis’s My Ex-boyfriend Yard Sale, really helped her believe this was possible.

For Matt, it met the challenge of performing for the first time in ten years.  The last time he performed, he made his friends promise they would never let him perform again, but all agreed it didn’t make much sense for anyone else to play him in this piece.

The most rewarding?

Having already performed several shows in Kamloops, the most rewarding part of this process is sharing this story with refugees from Ukraine.  Their responses have been incredible and have really encouraged us to share our story with as many people as possible.

What do you want the audience to get from this play, and from your character?

We want the audience to join us as we relive our sweeping love story, from Odesa to Toronto.  We want the audience to see the human side of the conflict in Ukraine.  And we want the audience to leave the theatre with the hope that love can and will conquer all.

First Métis Man of Odesa is in Toronto for its world premiere run at the Franco Boni Theatre @ The Theatre Centre from March 30 – April 8, 2023 (opening March 31). Following the world premiere in Toronto, First Métis Man of Odesa will appear at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton, The Cultch in Vancouver, and the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre in Winnipeg. For information and tickets, please visit

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Florence Welch, Martyna Majok, Rachel Chavkin and More On New Musical Gatsby Coming To A.R.T



Florence Welch Photo by De Wilde

Producers Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, Jordan Roth, and American Repertory Theater(A.R.T.) at Harvard University announced today that Gatsby, a brand-new musical stage adaptation of the legendary F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, will make its highly anticipated World Premiere at A.R.T. in 2024, and will be directed by Tony Award® winner Rachel Chavkin and choreographed by Tony Award winner Sonya Tayeh.

Rachel Chavkin Photo Credit Erik Tanner

Gatsby will feature music by Florence Welch, the Grammy Award-nominated international rock star of Florence + the Machine and Thomas Bartlett, the Oscar and Grammy Award nominee, with lyrics by Ms. Welch, and a book by Pulitzer Prize® winner Martyna Majok.

Martyna Majok by Josiah Bania

Gatsby will be produced at American Repertory Theater by special arrangement with Amanda Ghost and Len Blavatnik for Unigram/Access Entertainment, and Jordan Roth, in association with Robert Fox. Hannah Giannoulis serves as co-producer.

Sonya Tayeh

American Repertory Theater (Diane Paulus, Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director; Kelvin Dinkins, Jr., Executive Director) at Harvard University produces groundbreaking work to catalyze dialogue and transformation. Tony Award-winning and nominated productions include Jagged Little PillWaitressNatasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812; All the Way; The Glass Menagerie; Pippin; Once; and The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. Its revival of 1776, a co-production with Roundabout Theatre Company, is currently touring nationally. Learn more at

Thomas Bartlett Photo Credit York Tillyer

Additional Gatsby news will be announced soon.

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