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[Review] 'The Best Man'

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.
[Honeysuckle Weeks, Maureen Lipman, Glynis Barber]
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.

In Cantwell you hear the chest-thumping of Trump. He’ll use any dirty trick to smear his opponent. But will the more noble Russell hit back with what he knows?

Hobbling between the two candidates is Wycliffe star Jack Shepherd as the lame old President, oozing mortality from every pore.

As the matriarchal representative of 'the women voters', Maureen Lipman casts a beady eye about like an escaped goose. She's great value, though sadly she waddles off for good after livening up Act One.

There are also fine performances from Honeysuckle Weeks, as the shallow chatterbox Mrs Cantwell, and from Glynis Barber, whose loyal public poise hides a decayed but fond marriage to the philandering Russell. 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.

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