‘Skulduggery’ in the race for White House

Ballarat might seem light years away from the American presidential race – or at least a rather gruelling long-haul flight.

Behind the scenes: Simon Carroll and Mark Courneyea play two presidential candidates, fighting it out to become party nominee in Ballarat National Theatre's upcoming performance of The Best Man. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Behind the scenes: Simon Carroll and Mark Courneyea play two presidential candidates, fighting it out to become party nominee in Ballarat National Theatre's upcoming performance of The Best Man. Picture: Lachlan Bence

But despite the geographical distance, there can be no doubting local fascination by the somewhat crazed election campaign between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

So it makes sense that Ballarat National Theatre’s latest offering is none other than Gore Vidal’s beloved Broadway play, The Best Man, which follows the struggle between candidates to become party nominee.

The audience is never let it on which party – Republican or Democrat – as it’s not a play about policy. It’s about politics and personalities involved in the struggle for power.

The play premiered on Broadway in 1960 and won five Tony Awards including Best Play. It was revived in New York in 2001 and again in 2012, winning the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play on both occasions.

Ballarat National Theatre director Peter Nethercote said The Best Man gave a fascinating insight into the game of politics.

“The play sets out to expose the behind-the-scenes maneuvering and skulduggery that goes on,” he said.

“(But) even though it’s a political subject, the play is not so much about the politics as it is about the characters and what people will do to get on top.”

Damascus College teacher Mark Courneyea plays former secretary of state William Russell, an honest character with admirable qualities.

Well-known Ballarat storyteller Simon Carroll plays opposing central character, senator Joseph Cantwell, the more morally dubious of the two.

“Mark’s character, he won’t smear the candidacy,” “Mr Nethercote said.

“He says I won’t throw my mud if you won’t throw yours, but it wears him down. It’s interesting how corruption can erode principles.”

Mr Courneyea’s native Canadian accent is only slightly modified for the role, while Mr Carroll has taught himself a southern American accent from scratch.

Mr Nethercote said the script was “very intelligent” and funny, with the cast of 16 fully immersed in Vidal’s writing.

“The cast have thrown themselves into it because they really respect the script. It’s full of ideas. It has its funny moments – very funny,” he said.

The Best Man will be performed September 24 to October 1 at the Courthouse Theatre, Federation University. A fundraising show will be held at Damascus College on September 26.

To book tickets, go to www.hermaj.com/what-s-on/community/the-best-man