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Posts Tagged ‘Jack Shepherd’

As in ‘may the best man win’, this is a 1960 play by Gore Vidal about a fictitious 1960 US political party convention to select a presidential candidate (though some believe the protagonists are modelled on Adlai Stevenson and John Kennedy). Though it has a sort of timeliness today, the lifeless first half lets it down.

The leading candidates are William Russell, intellectual and establishmentarian, in the current government, and Joseph Cantwell, a charismatic populist. See what I mean? Though Russell is leading, Cantwell has some dirt to dish out. Russell has some too, but he’s seemingly a more principled man who’s reluctant to use it. The behind-the-scenes activities in hotel bedrooms in convention city Philadelphia show the selection process to be flawed and broken. The candidates are surrounded by their campaign managers, wives and the press and we move between camps as the intrigue unfolds. Nothing much happens in the first half, which is the fundamental problem with the play. It does get interesting in the second half, when the two candidates confront each other in a high stakes game of dare, and the conclusion is a surprise, but its too late really.

The two contrasting candidates are well played by Martin Shaw and Jeff Fahey, particularly the latter, but the female roles are badly underwritten, even patronising, though they might genuinely represent attitudes at that time. Glynis Barber comes off best as Alice Russell, Honeysuckle Weeks is forced to play the supportive wife without a mind of her own and Maureen Lipman’s character, Mrs Gamadge, appears to be light comic relief. It’s good to see Jack Shepherd again, playing the outgoing ailing president who’s playing hard-to-get with his support. The play seems trapped in Michael Taylor’s hotel room set and Simon Evans’ staging feels rather conservative. It rarely comes to life, and though it resonates almost sixty years on, not enough to forgive its flaws, I’m afraid.

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I was beginning to warm to Ibsen. Good recent productions of Pillars of the Community, A Doll’s House, Hedda Gabler and John Gabriel Borkman were beginning to turn one of my problem playwrights into an interesting and intriguing one. Then along comes this very obtuse play in a very stylish but dull production…..

To be honest, I still don’t really know what it was all about or what’s his point. Solness, the master builder, has learned his craft from someone who now wants him to help his son who he’s been training. Not only is he reluctant to do so, he also appears to have a relationship with the son’s girlfriend. There’s stuff about his wife’s home being destroyed and rebuilt, bedrooms for non-existent children & fear of heights. Then a young girl turns up to confuse you even further!

The Almeida stages this on what looks like soil with the bare walls of the theatre as a backdrop. There’s a big staircase but next to no props. I found Stephen Dillane too mannered and actorly as Solness, but I was very impressed by Gemma Arterton and there were good supporting performances from Anastasia Hille, Jack Shepherd, John Light and Patrick Godfrey.

It did hold my attention for 110 unbroken minutes, but I left the theatre thinking of all the other things I could have done. There have been a few evenings like this at the Almeida of late; are they losing the plot? Artistic-Director-staying-too-long syndrome?

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