REVIEW: ★★★★ ‘Thought-provoking and thrilling’ The Best Man, The Playhouse Theatre

We seem to have resigned ourselves to the fact that using drama is the only way to fully explore our feelings about politics these days. In fact within dramatisations you can often find a seemingly more politically stable world.

That’s certainly the case with The Best Man by Gore Vidal, which premiered on Broadway in 1960 and opened at the Playhouse Theatre in the West End last week.

The play, which boasts an all-star cast, provides an interesting insight into the American political process and despite being written over 50 years ago, it feels like a contemporary and hugely cynical comment.

Set in a Philadelphia hotel room, the play follows two candidates battling to gain the presidential nomination, with Bill Russell – played by Martin Shaw – the apparent front-runner. Shaw plays the smooth and sophisticated politician with aplomb and glides through the silky dialogue utilising the infamous rule of three.

His opponent is a much more brash and obstinate self-made man, played with grit by Jeff Fahey. The pair makes an interesting match and their dubious morals and political tactics feel frighteningly realistic. As do their first ladies – the stiff and distant Alice Russell (Glynis Barber) and the noisy Mabel Cantwell (Honeysuckle Weeks) – who the chaps only really seem to consider as mandatory accouterments.

Their only real moral guidance comes from the outgoing president, played with real class by Jack Shepherd and the forthright committee chair, who is given an abundance of perfectly timed caustic wit by Maureen Lipman.

Writer Gore Vidal, who stood twice for office himself, is acutely perceptive about the dog-eat-dog world of politics and The Best Man feels like an accurate representation, with just enough artistic license to make a thought-provoking and thrilling stage show.

The Best Man is running at the Playhouse Theatre until 12 May.


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