Review: An Honourable Man
Image: White Bear Theatre
Timothy Harker - Joe Newman
Lisa Bowerman - Anne
Max Keeble - Sam
Thomas Mahy - Josh and PR Man
Dee Sadler - Liz
Annie Tyson - Maggie
"What if the bitter wounds caused by Brexit do not heal? What if the Brexit vote, UKIP, even the BNP and the EDL - what if all that was just the beginning?"
Joe Newman is the mainstream Labour MP for a traditional, working-class constituency in the North of England - until Momentum try to oust him.
Unwittingly they unleash a tide that could destroy not only Labour and the Conservatives - but also every assumption anyone has ever made about what is acceptable in the mainstream of British politics.
This is also a study of how political success and personal disintegration can go hand in hand.
After its highly successful, sell-out workshop week in June, Michael McManus's timely and darkly comic play about the (possible) future of British politics returns to the White Bear, this time for a strictly limited, fully-staged, premiere production.
If you're fed up to the back teeth with politics after the Brext squabbles and resignations, austerity and a government barey able to govern thanks to a vague majority, then a play about political escapades inside and outside the Westminster bubble might not be your idea of perfect bliss right now.
But before you dismiss Michael McManus's An Honourable Man, you need to know that this play imagines what might happen if the political landscape got a radical, popular makeover with the emergence of a new party ready to "break the mould of British politics".
Though we've heard it all often enough before, that's the basic idea behind this play and it has an unlikely candidate for fame and power at its heart.
Joe Newman (played by Timothy Harker) is an ordinary, run-of-the-mill MP who has been pretty-much slumbering on the back benches for almost the whole of his parliamentary career.
It takes the intervention of Momentum and his subsequent deselection to give Joe a political wake-up call.
When he stands as an independent and secures re-election in a "historic victory", he's propelled to the forefront of political debate, and finds himself with considerable backing in the country and inside the party he used to belong to, with Labour MPs gagging to join him in forming a new party.
Initially reluctant, but egged-on by his entourage of ambitious assistants, he sees an opportunity to carve out a niche for himself and, possibly, become top political dog in the power game.
And that's where things start to go adrift, as insidious policies find their way into the new party's populist manifesto.
An array of real-life politcal celebrities and commentators populate Jolley Gosnold's production via a video screen which pumps out interviews and news bulletins as events proceed.
That device neatly covers the changes between the large number of scenes, and there's some fun to be had in the appearances of people we're more used to watching on Question Time or in election specials and the like.
But take that device away and the political bones of this play are fairly sparse, so much so that it has to fall back on Joe Newman's personal life and relationships as well as his sexual orientation to fill-out both the comedy and the drama.
Though Michael McManus's script certainly finds currency in the concept of a new party, the dialogue is hardly the kind of razor sharp wit that one might expect given the amply exploitable context.
An opportunistic PR executive, looking to help Joe with his general election campaign, can only muster a trite slogan based on the MP's surname and lame advice such as "don't be too posh".
And it's largely a play of two halves where humour almost evaporates after the interval, when it might have been more productive to concentrate entirely on comedy for the duration.
Timothy Harker as Joe Newman ably presents a lacklustre politican suddenly out of his depth, and there's commendable work from Lisa Bowerman as Newman's assistant, whose questionable inner political beliefs abruptly surface when new policy angles have to be found.
And Max Keeble as Sam creditably captures the eager ambition of a young political assistant who will seemingly do anything to ingratiate himself with his employer and further his own boundless ambition.
As the title indicates, this play questions whether it is possible for politicians to be honourable whilst dealing with the grubby and sometimes shabby intrigue of political chicanery.
The outcome of Joe Newman's moment in the limelight seems to suggest it is, but lacks realism and credibility, even if it offers a glimmer of hope at a time of political turmoil and frustration.
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