NICKY CAMPBELL has just won a Sony gold award for the Best Daytime Talk/News Programme of the year The Sonys are radio's Oscars and cause similar controversy. It's a fascinating evening: a play written a decade before the First World War makes a corrosively bleak assessment of the relationship between money, power and politics. He has the debonair smoothness of the boulevard perfomer that would play equally well in the boardroom. He argues with a lethal frankness that's unclouded by conventional moral concerns. Bowles finds a worthy opponent in the boyish, terrier-like professor - the excellent David Yelland - who has the academic's untrammelled sense of his own rightness. Anna Carteret is imperiously dismissive as Lady Undershaft and Crispin Bonham- Carter suitably priggish as the public-school son, standing up for character and a clear sense of right and wrong.
Major Barbara (played with fresh-faced sincerity by Gemma Redgrave) is a salvation army officer running a mission in West Ham. Her story pales beside the razor-sharp debates between her future husband, the young Greek professor, Adolphus Cusins, and her father, the arms manufacturer, Andrew Undershaft.We want to speed through the details of the plot - about the family tradition of finding a foundling to inherit the Undershaft munitions, and whether or not Barbara is going to marry Adolphus. The play leaps into life - with superb passages of political rhetoric - when Undershaft persuades Cusins to take over the business.It was inspired, too, to cast Peter Bowles as the arms manufacturer. It says big business donates money to political parties and receives honours in return. It says big business even sponsors the very organisations which are set up to oppose them.
All this, and it has a character called "the prince of darkness".Sandline in Sierra Leone, Bernie Ecclestone and the ban on tobacco sponsorship, Rupert Murdoch dropping in last week at Number 10, and the strange coincidence of Peter Mandelson's nickname: you have to admit, it's pretty nifty work to have produced such a damaging portrait of New Labour just one year on. Only it was back in 1905 that Bernard Shaw wrote Major Barbara.Peter Hall's inspired revival of Shaw's play has electrifying moments of political savvy. It reminds us forcibly of the parochialism of most new writing Here is political theatre at its most topical and astute. The evening tails off slightly with The Lover, where surprise is built into the action as much as suspense.