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Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Fahey’

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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Twenty-eight years ago I saw a young(ish) Jeff Fahey give an edgy, riveting performance alongside Albert Finney in Orphans at Hampstead Theatre. I haven’t seen him on stage since, until yesterday giving a passionate & just as riveting performance as Juror 3. Yet he’s only one of a fine ensemble which is a very good reason to see this revival. Another good reason is that it’s a gripping drama which has lost none of its punch.

Reginald Rose’s story has had an unorthodox journey from 1954 live TV play to to 1957 Sidney Lumet film to stage play first seen in the UK in 1964, again in 1996 directed by Harold Pinter and it stormed the Edinburgh fringe ten years ago in a production featuring a bunch of stand-up comedians. The truth is, the stage suits it better than the screen and this revival proves this conclusively.

I’m sure everyone knows the story of an all-male jury which has to decide the fate of a 16-year-old who is alleged to have murdered his father. Juror 8 prevents an instant unanimous guilty verdict, not because he thinks he isn’t guilty, but to ensure there is proper consideration of the facts. As they review the evidence, jurors begin to change their positions.

In addition to Fahey, the ‘names’ Martin Shaw and Robert Wagner don’t disappoint, but there are also fine performances from Nick Moran, Miles Richardson, Owen O’Neill (who was in the Edinburgh fringe production), Robert Blythe and Edward Franklin. Director Christopher Haydon and designer Michael Pavelka have done a fine job staging and setting the piece, with the jury table on such an imperceptibly slow revolve it took me ages to realise it was moving!

It might be an old warhorse, but its definitely worth catching in its last month.

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