The Best Man by Gore Vidal, Playhouse Theatre, London WC2, 2018

the-best-man-01

First produced on Broadway in 1960, The Best Man points at the flaws in the democratic system that we had then and that we still have today, namely that those who crave political power are the last people who should be given it. It is really interesting to note how it manages to be a period costume drama and a commentary on the machinations of political life today. The period part comes in the fact that political drama in the early 1960s was a much more static affair than we are used to now. Since “The West Wing” and “House of Cards”, rarely do we see anyone actually sitting and talking political ideas.

Gore Vidal is a fantastic writer, and even almost 60 years on, “The Best Man” is full of provocative ideas and stinging backhanded compliments.  It is insightful and witty and has a stellar cast. Martin Shaw shows great balance being righteous without being too pompous, he carries himself as though he believes he is better than the people who he hopes to vote for him, but has to work hard to avoid showing it.  Jeff Fahey is the Machiavellian, but he makes you understand that he realises this, and it is ok because he is doing it for the right reasons. Jack Shepherd almost steals the show as the outgoing President – this is a fantastic part, he gets to deliver some nice home truths to both sides and he plays it perfectly.

This being the early 1960s one would expect the women to be ancillary to the action, but Vidal was ahead of his time here, and the three leading ladies all have relatively meaty roles, and are aware of their importance in the political machine. Glynis Barber and Honeysuckle Weeks have very different roles as the respective senators wives but both are very convincing in what they do. Maureen Lipman is hilarious in a beautifully written cameo as Mrs Gamadge, who promises to bring “the women’s vote” to the candidate of her choice. She plays it so well and so much as we know her that it feels as though it could have been written for her.

Simon Evans has done a good job as director by ensuring that, although the play was written with one senator being the more honourable and the other being more murky, we see the faults in both. Apparently there was film of this play made in 1964, I will certainly be on the lookout for it because it will be interesting to see the difference 54 years has made in our perception of its ideas.

Unfortunately, I have come to this show late and it is about to close in London, but if it goes on tour after, I urge you to try and catch it, especially if you have any interest in politics – either American or British, and either current of historical. Recommended.

Hobson's Choice, Vaudeville Theatre, 2016

event_media-banner_lrg
This is the centenary tour of Hobson’s Choice, but I have to say that it doesn’t show its age. Martin Shaw is very good in the title role, it requires a blustering, exaggerated performance and you can see he is enjoying himself here.
Really though, the play is all about Maggie. Naomi Frederick is excellent, she plays it totally straight and carries it off perfectly. Bryan Dick puts in a great performance as Willie, his transformation is both funny and credible.
The sets are relatively simple but beautifully made, and the direction is uncomplicated. They allow the real stars of the show to shine through and they are the words. It is a fantastically written comedy drama, with great individual lines and genuinely funny characters. It is easy to see why it is still regularly produced even one hundred years after it was written. This is a production by people who really love Harold Brighouse’s play and that care shines through on the stage.