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Wednesday, 4 October 2017

REVIEW: The Best Man at the Richmond Theatre

Gore Vidal’s 1960 Tony award nominated play The Best Man has been given a UK premiere by Bill Kenwright with an all star stellar cast of well known television drama actors and appears to be packing in audiences in its short south of England tour. Set is the hotel suites of two of the three candidates for nomination in the US presidential primaries it a well written and well acted production. Although the original play was a thinly veiled attack on the actual candidates for the 1960 Democratic convention and the votes chasing in the US electoral delegate system is alien to a British audience, the melodramatic structure works well to create an enjoyable and entertaining drama. The recent events in the US presidential elections between Clinton and Trump make this seem as relevant today as when it is set.

What makes this production buzz and enthral the audience is the central performances of the five main characters battling for the nomination, the two candidates, their wives and the “kingmaker” former President whose endorsement they all seek. Martin Shaw is majestic as Secretary William Russell, the candidate with principles and integrity but with dark secrets that you can feel just below the surface of his otherwise controlled poker faced and intelligent persona. When he is on stage with the wonderful Jack Shepherd, as the elder statesman and former president Hockstader, the drama is spell binding. Both are compelling watching and completely convincing. The rival candidate Jo Cantwell is played by the American Jeff Fahey. He is unscrupulous, conniving and unable to read people and we naturally dislike him although he does not present the image of Kennedy on whom he is based reflecting Vidal’s dislike of him.
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