Previewed 24 February 2018, Opened 5 March 2018, Closed 12 May 2018 at the Playhouse Theatre
The West End Premiere of Gore Vidal's political thriller The Best Man in London starring Martin Shaw, Jeff Fahey, Jack Shepherd and Maureen Lipman
How far would you go to be the most powerful man in the world? Two opposing presidential party candidates are neck and neck in an unscrupulous battle for the nomination. The only thing that separates the ex-Secretary of State and his populist opponent is an endorsement from a respected ex-President. But where does compromise end and corruption begin? And who in the end will be proved to be 'The Best Man'?
The cast features Martin Shaw as 'Secretary William Russell', Glynis Barber as 'Alice Russell', Jeff Fahey as 'Senator Joseph Cantwell', Honeysuckle Weeks as 'Mabel Cantwell', Jack Shepherd as 'Ex-President Arthur 'Artie' Hockstader' and Maureen Lipman as 'Mrs Sue-Ellen Gamadge'. Directed by Simon Evans with designs by Michael Taylor, lighting by Chris Davey, and music and sound by Ed Lewis.
When this production opened here at the Playhouse Theatre in March 2018, Neil Norman in the Daily Express highlighted that "Gore Vidal’s portrait of political infighting, blackmail and power-broking rings as true now as it did then... Slick, pacy and packed with great dialogue, this is dirty tricks a gogo on an elevated level." Ann Treneman in the Times praised how "Martin Shaw is perfectly cast as William Russell... Joseph Cantwell is portrayed as a brutal populist and played by Jeff Fahey with nuclear levels of bombast... Jack Shepherd is superb as President Hockstader... but Maureen Lipman almost steals the show as the Democratic grande dame Mrs Gamadge." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail thought that "this entertaining but occasionally far-fetched yarn is good fun." Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard commented how "the drama doesn't shed any startling new light on political machinations, but reveals itself to be a work of gradually mounting heft as it picks its way through a perilous landscape of smear campaigns... If not quite 'best', this is definitely pretty good." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph said, "although this premiere arrives at an odd (midterm) time in the US cycle, the surprise is just how much pertains to America today - and, indirectly, ourselves: just what does it take to get in the running for the top job?.. But though you can see the cobwebs, the chilly draught of age-old realpolitik is bracing enough to induce a useful shudder." Joe Vesey-Byrne in the i newspaper described how "Gore Vidal's play centres on the real power struggles: the backroom deals, smear threats, and outright blackmail. As exciting as the premise sounds, The Best Man falls slightly flat... But despite the topical political discussion, the whole thing leaves one unmoved."
Gore Vidal's The Best Man premiered on Broadway in New York in 1960 with Melvyn Douglas as 'William Russell', Frank Lovejoy as 'Joseph Cantwell' and Lee Tracy as 'Arthur Hockstader. Melvyn Douglas winning the Tony Award for 'Best Actor in a Play'. Although the play was a hit - running for just over 15 months - the production never transferred to London's West End because it was thought that British audiences where unlikely to be interested in the American politics that where central to the play's storyline. Since 1960 there have been two revivals on Broadway: a 2000 revival with Spalding Gray as 'William Russell', Chris Noth as 'Joseph Cantwell' and Charles Durning as 'Arthur Hockstader' run for three months; while a 2012 revival with John Larroquette as 'William Russell', Eric McCormack as 'Joseph Cantwell', James Earl Jones as 'Arthur Hockstader' and Angela Lansbury as 'Mrs Gamadge' enjoyed a five month run. In 1964 the play was released as a film with Henry Fonda as 'William Russell', Cliff Robertson as 'Joe Cantwell' with Lee Tracy reprising his original Broadway stage role as 'Art Hockstader' for which he was Oscar nominated for 'Best Actor in a Supporting Role'.
Martin Shaw's London theatre credits include the role of 'Henry Horation Hobson' in Jonathan Church's revival of Harold Brighouse's Hobson's Choice at the Vaudeville Theatre in 2016; the role of 'Juror No 8' in Christopher Haydon's revival of Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men at the Garrick Theatre in 2013; the role of 'Frank Elgin' in Rufus Norris' revival of Clifford Odets' The Country Girl at the Apollo Theatre in 2010; the role of 'Sir Thomas More' in Michael Rudman's revival of Robert Bolt's A Man For All Seasons at the Haymarket Theatre in 2005; and the role of 'Lord Goring' in Peter Hall's revival of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband at the Globe Theatre (now Gielgud Theatre) in 1992, at the Haymarket Theatre in 1996 and at the Globe Theatre (now Gielgud Theatre) in 1997.
Jeff Fahey's West End theatre credits include the role of 'Juror No 3' in Christopher Haydon's revival of Reginald Rose's Twelve Angry Men at the Garrick Theatre in 2013.
Jack Shepherd's London stage credits include the role of 'Richard Roma' in Bill Bryden's production of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross at the National Theatre's Cottesloe Theatre (now Dorfman Theatre) in 1986.
Maureen Lipman's West End theatre credits include the role of 'Veta Louise Simmons' in Lindsay Posner's revival of Mary Chase's Harvey at the Haymarket Theatre in 2015; the role of 'Elli' in David Grindley's production of Oliver Cotton's Daytona at the Haymarket Theatre in 2014; the role of 'Clara Soppitt' in Christopher Luscombe's revival of J B Priestly's When We Are Married at the Garrick Theatre in 2010; 'Madame Armfeldt' in Trevor Nunn's revival of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music at the Garrick Theatre in 2009; the role of 'Florence Foster Jenkins' in Alan Strachan's production of Peter Quilter's Glorious! at the Duchess Theatre in 2005; the role of 'Dim Sum' in Sean Mathias's production of Bille Brown's Aladdin, starring Ian McKellen as the Dame, 'Widow Twanky', at the Old Vic Theatre in 2004; the role of 'Mrs Meers' in Michael Mayer's production of the musical Thoroughly Modern Millie at the Shaftesbury Theatre in 2003; the title role of 'Peggy Ramsay' in Robin Lefevre's production of Alan Plater's play Peggy For You at the Comedy Theatre in 2000; the role of 'Aunt Eller' in Trevor Nunn's revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! at the Lyceum Theatre in 1999; and the title role of 'Joyce Grenfell' in Alan Strachan's production of Re:Joyce, adapted from the works of Joyce Grenfell by Maureen Lipman and James Roose-Evans, at the Fortune Theatre in 1988 and Vaudeville Theatre in 1989 and 1991.
Glynis Barber's West End stage credits include the role of 'Genie Klein' in Marc Bruni's production of Douglas McGrath's Beautiful - The Carole King Musical at the Aldwych Theatre in 2015.
Honeysuckle Weeks' London theatre credits include the role of 'Sarah Prentice' in Roy Marsden's production of Agatha Christie's (writing as Mary Westmacott) A Daughter's A Daughter at the Trafalgar Studios in 2009.
"Some things never change. American elections, for example, as this near 60-year-old play about two candidates slugging it out for the American presidency demonstrates. The writing is wise, waspish and insider-ish. Just what you’d expect from the acidic Gore Vidal. Martin Shaw plays William Russell, the principled Secretary running for President at the 1960 Democratic Convention. His trouble is that he can’t keep his trousers on (just like John F Kennedy), and he’s had a mental breakdown the press doesn’t know about. His brash rival is Senator Cantwell (played by Jeff Fahey, all teeth and Brylcreem), an unscrupulous Southerner, a family man who ‘pours God over everything like ketchup’ and who has his own skeletons rattling in the closet... The action is all set in a hotel suite and the raucous press gaggle outside the door is reminiscent of that lovely old screwball newspaper comedy The Front Page. Dated it may be, yet The Best Man is also a real crystal ball of a play, predicting the total moral debasement of today’s political climate. Very well acted, it’s recommended if witty, astute old Broadway plays are your thing." The Mail on Sunday
"They say a week is a long time in politics, but so timely is this revival of Gore Vidal's slick drama, it shows almost 60 years can seem like nothing at all. At a conference in 1960 Philadelphia, Bill Russell battles for the presidential endorsement against his rival Joe Cantwell. Bill is wealthy and intellectual, while populist, religious Joe is a 'regular guy'. Despite his sham marriage to Alice, Bill is morally upright, and loathe to stoop to the gutter tactics Cantwell uses to smear his rival. As the tension mounts through crucial ballots, the candidates and their wives spar - with some terrific one liners, a great performance from Honeysuckle Weeks as the viperish Mabel Cantwell, and a fine comic turn from Maureen Lipman as the hideous Mrs Gamadge, arbiter of what 'the women', find acceptable. A production to vote yes to." The Sunday Mirror
"In Gore Vidal's 1960 fly-on-the-wall political thriller, the fight between two presidential hopefuls is no cleaner than between a couple of mud wrestlers. In the blue corner is former American secretary of state William Russell, played with terrific poise by Martin Shaw. In the red is senator Joseph Cantwell (Jeff Fahey). Russell is like an earlier version of Martin Sheen's Jed Bartlet in The West Wing. He's well-heeled, liberal and principled, though with John F Kennedy's womaniser reputation. Cantwell is more of a street fighter; ruthless, ambitious and willing to publish his opponent's medical files to stop him getting to the White House. But Russell's campaign manager has dug dirt on Cantwell. The tension climaxes when the pair confront each other in a political Mexican stand-off. Who will fire first... The leads get great support from Jack Shepherd as a kingmaker ex-president and Maureen Lipman as the haughty and influential Mrs Gamadge. Simon Evans's terrifically acted, well-timed production has a whiff of Mad Men chauvinism about it. The big question asked is about whether principles can survive politics, and whether democracy leads to the best man getting the biggest job. Or for the answer you could just read today's news." The Metro
The Best Man in London at the Playhouse Theatre previewed from 24 February 2018, opened on 5 March 2018, and closed on 12 May 2018