AN HONOURABLE MAN
by Michael McManus.
The White Bear Theatre, 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4JD to 8 December 2018.
Tues – Sat 7.30pm. Mat Sat & Wed 2.30 pm.
Runs One interval.
TICKETS: 0333 012 4963.
Review: William Russell 23 November
The shape of things to come
After Brexit comes the man of the hour to save the nation from the disaster inflicted on it by those who voted to leave, voters who now succumb to the rampant populism of a leader with the manner of a family doctor rather than someone selling dodgy used cars. Ukip is reborn in terrifying form in this satirical account of what comes next for Britain as a working class Labour MP turns demagogue and leads a revolution.
Michael McManus has worked in Whitehall, knows the world he writes about, and for this efficiently and complicatedly staged production has called in some impressive favours. As our man heads for the top his journey is illustrated by clips from news broadcasts and TV interviews on which some famous voices and faces appear ranging from Jim Naughtie to Kenneth Clarke.
Timothy Harker is Newman, a man of the people Labour MP. Momentum led by his activist boyfriend Josh, a fine performance from Thomas Mahy, try to oust him – Josh sees him as a betrayer. Joe refuses to go down without a fight, stands as an indepent and lives to carry on as a politician with added status. With the backing of a couple of loyal aides, one of whom is also gay, he embarks on a new political career as they set up a new party, the Popular People’s Movement, in effect UKIP reborn with added far right wing ingredients and policies which pander to the masses – notably a clamp down on all foreign immigrants.
Joe rises seemingly effortlessly, although quite where the money comes from is not clear, and come the general election it is a three horse race with the PPM, Labour and the Tories – the Liberals are, of course, almost out of sight. To start with Timothy Harker’s Joe is possibly a little lacklustre – why he should have appeal as a man of the people is difficult to see – but by the end he is in full control of the role.
The gay content of the plot, however, all seems a bit unnecessary and McManus veers between sending some events up and being genuinely serious about others. Whether the Joe as gay needs be there at all is anybody’s guess. Satire should make us laugh as we cry, but McManus does occasionally opt for the cheap laugh to the detriment of the message. There is no reason why Joe should not be gay as being gay today is no longer a barrier to public office or acceptance, but the suggestion of press expose waiting in the wings never comes to anything and the romantic bits of the plot are none too credible.
It is also a mistake to make his office aide, Sam, Max Keeble emoting all over the place as a man with a queen sized inferiority complex, also gay. This leads to a preposterous scene when Sam, mistaking an invitation to come and talk things over, while Joe is out of the room strips to his amazingly garish Y fronts and waits for the inevitable to happen. It adds nothing to the story of the rise of Joe’s party which rapidly attracts all sorts of far right obsessive’s who hide behind his apparent bonhomie. That plot strand should go – and Sam should buy his Y fronts elsewhere.
Thomas Mahy does a second brief hilarious cameo as a public relations man brought in to advise Joe which McManus clearly enjoyed writing, although it is so silly it belongs in another play altogether. Lisa Bowerman is splendidly incisive as Joe’s other assistant Anne who gets some of the best lines to sum up just why Joe is going places, arguing that for once millions of people in retreat won with the referendum and now they are angry and fear losing their culture and their heritage.
Director Jolley Gosnold has handled the events of the play with imagination and flair given the limitations of the acting space – that politicians on the rise wear better suits as they climb is noted and Joe ends up in a very smart blue suit indeed – and the play with a little more work deserves to be seen on other stages.
The denouement is chilling, although I don’t quite accept that it is how things would work out, but in politics a day is a long time, as we are currently seeing, and McManus’s picture of the Apocalypse to come is all too chillingly credible. The British Trump could be waiting in the wings.
Joe Newman: Timothy Harker.
Anne: Lisa Bowman.
Sam: Max Keeble.
Josh: Thomas Mahy.
Liz: Dee Sadler.
Maggie: Annie Tyson.
Director: Jolley Gosnold.
Art Director: Steve Broster.
Set & Costume Design: Mike Lees.
Lighting Design: Joseph Ed Thomas.
Lisa Bowerman & Claude Baskind.