AT A time when life seems dominated by politics, it's not really curious that we look for parallels to modern issues in a play written in the 1960s about an American presidential race. And find them.

This production of Gore Vidal's The Best Man, is a delight because its stellar cast bring real energy and vitality to its central question: how do you decide if you are the best man for the job, and what are the qualities does a person need to become a world leader.

Martin Shaw, as William Russell, and Jeff Fahey, as Joe Cantwell, are vying to win the nomination from their party's delegates ahead of a Presidential election. They are locked in a bitter battle, totally opposed in terms of personality and approach to the job - though as Cantwell perceptively tells his rival at one point, politically we aren't too far apart.

Shaw brings his trademark wit and urbanity to the role of Russell, the 'thinking man's' candidate, with his dry humour, procession of jokes with educated references which set some people's teeth on edge, and his polished, seemingly assured wife.

Although at times in the first half his American accent slipped a little, he begins by winning our sympathy, especially when the details of the 'big smear' his 'dirty-dealing' rival plans to use to force him from the race are revealed.

Fahey, however, turns the tables, cleverly developing the character of the man who will do anything to get what he wants into a figure who is prepared to take the hard decisions when they are needed.

Jack Shepherd plays ex-President Hockstader, the old stager whose endorsement both men feel will assure their victory, with glee, gnomicly full of what they Americans term 'piss and vinegar'. You are left feeling that his interpretation of what a President should be, though maybe old-fashioned, is the right one.

The only slightly jarring note when you look at the parallels with modern life are the women's roles: Glynis Barber, as Alice Russell, assured and competent, surprisingly seduced by the political scene, the ravishing Honeysuckle Weeks who simpers and snarls as Southern belle Mabel Cantwell and backstage string-puller Mrs Gamage, played by Gemma Jones with an acid tongue, are all convinced that their job is to support the men. Perish the thought that they should consider themselves able to run for office.

The final denouement, when the deadlock is broken, is quite shocking.

This is the play's UK premiere and it is hoped it will have a London run. It seems a 21st century audience felt it has a lot to say about how little politics has changed in the last 50 years,