A brand new production of The Best Man, Gore Vidal’s acclaimed drama about ambition, political scandal, ruthlessness and the race for the White House, is set to play the Theatre Royal with a stellar cast led by Martin Shaw (Judge John Deed, Inspector George Gently, The Professionals). Appearing from Monday 9th to Saturday 14th October, the company also features Gemma Jones (Spooks, Bridget Jones’ Diary, Harry Potter films), Jeff Fahey (Lost), Jack Shepherd (Wycliffe, Bill Brand), Glynis Barber (Dempsey and Makepeace, EastEnders), Honeysuckle Weeks (Foyle’s War) and Anthony Howell (Foyle’s War).
As the repercussions from the recent American and UK elections rumble on, Vidal’s drama of dirty politics never seemed more real or relevant. At a time of political chaos, The Best Man mirrors the often surprising results of campaigning and the unscrupulous world of politics.
Neck and neck in a fierce battle for the nomination, the only thing that separates two opposing presidential party candidates, William Russell, the esteemed former Secretary of State (played by Martin Shaw) and Joseph Cantwell, his newcomer populist opponent (Jeff Fahey) are endorsements from a respected former President (Jack Shepherd) and party big-wig (Gemma Jones). As the race heats up the campaigns gets personal, involving Russell’s estranged wife Alice (Glynis Barber) and Cantwell’s wife Mabel (Honeysuckle Weeks) whilst drawing on all the resources of Russell’s campaign manager (Anthony Howell). But where does compromise end and corruption begin? How far will the two candidates go to be the most powerful leader in the world and who in the end will prove to be “the best man”?
Born into a distinguished political family, Gore Vidal was a prolific writer, known for the wit which peppered his screenplays, novels, essays and Broadway plays. Amongst his most famous works are Myra Breckinridge and Lincoln. The Best Man premiered on Broadway in 1960 and was nominated for six Tony Awards, including Best Play. Vidal adapted it into a film with the same title in 1964 starring Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson, and Lee Tracy who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of the ex-President. The play received a major revival on Broadway in 2012 starring James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury, and earned two Tony Award nominations including Best Revival of a Play.
One of the UK’s most respected actors, Martin Shaw, is known to millions of television viewers for his lead roles in Inspector George Gently and Judge John Deed, and for starring as Bodie opposite Lewis Collins in The Professionals. On television, he also played lead roles in The Chief and Rhodes; Horatio in Hamlet alongside Richard Chamberlain, John Gielgud and Michael Redgrave; Captain Scott in the series The Last Place on Earth; and Jack Butcher in the Italia Prize-winning Cream in My Coffee by Dennis Potter. Some of the many highlights in his extensive stage career have included Saturday, Sunday, Monday opposite Laurence Olivier for the National Theatre; The Battle of Shrivings alongside John Gielgud in the West End; and Sir Peter Hall’s production of An Ideal Husband on Broadway, for which he was Tony Award-nominated and won the coveted New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. His recent West End credits include Hobson’s Choice, which opened in Bath in 2016; a record-breaking run of Twelve Angry Men; The Country Girl, which played Bath in 2010; and A Man for All Seasons, which also toured to Bath in 2005.
BAFTA award-winning Gemma Jones plays Mrs Gamadge. In a career spanning six decades, some of her best known screen roles have included Connie Jones in Spooks, Madam Pomfrey in the Harry Potter films, Bridget’s mum in the Bridget Jones’s Diary films, Great Aunt Lizzie in Teacup Travels, Louisa Trotter in The Duchess of Duke Street, and Marvellous with Toby Jones, for which she won the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress. Her countless film and television credits also include Doc Martin, Last Tango in Halifax, Trial and Retribution and The Borrowers. Gemma has also performed in numerous stage productions in the West End, at London’s Old Vic, the National Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse. She has previously performed at the Theatre Royal Bath in Tolstoy in 1996 and in The Winter’s Tale with the RSC in 1993.
Jeff Fahey, who plays Joseph Cantwell, is best known on television for his role as rescue pilot, Frank Lapidus, in the hugely popular series Lost. He starred in the title role in cult sci-fi hit The Lawnmower Man opposite Pierce Brosnan and in Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse. He has also worked extensively as a film producer. His stage work includes Twelve Angry Men and Orphans in the West End; Next Fall at the Geffin Playhouse in Los Angeles; and the Broadway productions of Brigadoon, Oklahoma and West Side Story.
Ex-President Hockstader is played by Jack Shepherd, well known on television for his titular roles in the popular series Wycliffe and Bill Brand, for which he was BAFTA nominated. He also appeared as Arthur Banville in Fearless, General William Lowe in Rebellion, and has played guest roles in numerous series including New Tricks, The Politician’s Husband, Moving On and Silent Witness. Jack’s stage credits include his award-winning performances in Glengarry Glen Ross and The Iceman Cometh at the National Theatre, and The Merchant of Venice at The Globe. He last played Bath in 1982 in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Glynis Barber, who appears as Alice Russell, is best known as one half of the globally successful detective series Dempsey & Makepeace, as well as Glenda Mitchell in EastEnders. She has also played regular roles in The Royal, Emmerdale and Family Affairs. Her film credits include On the Nose alongside Dan Ackroyd and Robbie Coltrane; The Fairy King of Ar with Malcolm McDowell; and Deja Vu alongside Vanessa Redgrave and Stephen Dillane. On stage she was in the original West End cast of Beautiful: The Carole King Story, and starred in the UK tour of The Graduate, which played Bath in 2003.
Honeysuckle Weeks, who plays Mabel Cantwell, is best known on television as Samantha Stewart in Foyle’s War, a role she played from 2002 to 2015. Recently she has appeared in The Five, Lewis, Death in Paradise, The Charles Dickens Show and Where the Heart Is. Her theatre credits include Pygmalion and Love’s Labour’s Lost at Chichester, and the national tours of Witness for the Prosecution and Absurd Person Singular, which played Bath in 2008.
Anthony Howell, who appears as Dick Jenson, played Sgt Paul Milner in Foyle’s War. His recent television credits also include Shetland, Mr Selfridge and Dracula. On stage he has performed regularly at The Globe, with the RSC and in the West End. He was last seen at the Theatre Royal Bath in The Portrait of a Lady and A Doll’s House with The Peter Hall Company in 2008.
The cast also features Emma Campbell-Jones, Jim Creighton, Simon Hepworth, Ian Houghton, Craig Pinder and David Tarkenter.
The Best Man is directed by Simon Evans whose credits include The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui and Silence of the Seas at the Donmar Warehouse; Rubber Room at London’s Old Vic and Madness in Valencia at Trafalgar Studios. Simon has also worked as Resident Assistant Director at the Donmar Warehouse, Staff Director at the National and Creative Associate at the Bush Theatre.
Tickets for The Best Man are on sale at the Theatre Royal Bath Box Office on 01225 448844 and via www.theatreroyal.org.uk