Saturday, 1 July 2017

Review James Bonney MP

A play seemingly in the right place at the right time to unpick left wing politics and give some sorely-needed laughs disappoints reviewer Peter Barker

James Bonney MP
by Ian Buckley

Events, Dear Boy, Events 

A week is a long time in politics and the current unexpectedly strengthened position of  Labour's leader with squirming volte faces of previously naysaying Labour politicans has been a wonder to behold.

So James Bonney MP seemed full of potential for a playwright willing to grasp the mettle, do the research and mine his material. However Ian Buckley's new play seems stuck in the last century in terms of scenarios with no attempt to really grapple with current or perennial political issues.

James Bonney (Andrew Loudon) is a careerist Labour MP, a Blairite of the sort we now all know is an anathema to most old Labourites and new Corbynistas.

He has a wife Christine (Karen McCaffrey) and daughter Kate (Elian West), a curvy blonde secretary Jennifer (Louise Tyler), and a suited and booted fixer as his agent George (Malcolm Jeffries), for whom the phrase éminence grise seems apt.

Bonney's daughter also just happens to be in love with a constituency activist Malcolm (Ciaran Lonsdale) who is opposed to everything Bonney stands for.

Predictably the male MP is bonking his female blonde secretary, his previously trusting wife finds out, the éminence grise plays his cards close to his chest, the activist gets his girl but not before finding political temptation hard to resist.

Philandering Bonney gets his comeuppance. And the blonde personal assistant? Oh, yes she only - I roll my eyes at this point - gets pregnant.

That leaves the wife.

She gets angry.

It's a pale shadow of a Ray Cooney sex farce (think of Two Into One which was revived at the Menier in early 2014).

The design by Oscar Selfridge is made up principally of different doors, moved around the set to create new spaces, as well as entrances and exits. However these are not used for comic effect - there's a distinct lack of laughs and wit throughout, as well as satiric edge.

While playwright Ian Buckley describes the Labour Party as a "strange beast" and self-identifies as a  left-winger, whatever that means now, his political analysis is undercooked and his digs at the political set up lily-livered.

Indeed,  this play's personality reminded me of the SDP in the 1980s, the ill-fated Labour breakaway  -- it has a weak left jab, even weaker narrative and appears to have no real purpose other than to damage the Labour Party.

Bonney is never more than a one-dimensional New Labour MP, a type which naïve idealists might believe in - if they ignored the reality of making politics.

We've seen all the other characters before and better done. The loyal daughter torn between her father and her lover; the upright activist; the House of Cards Machiavelli; the wronged wife; the busty secretary.

There's nothing dividing it from any other limp traditional farce because it inflexibly fails to grasp its chance to examine the institutional Labour Party and the contortions and compromises of recent times.

The play references the failed coup against Jeremy Corbyn but not the general election, so it's painfully behind the times. Like it or not, any playwright worth his or her salt would have had to update the script, even if it meant a late rewrite.

This is especially true when the theme takes a well-worn path. There have been plenty of stage and screen incarnations of MPs stretching back to the last century.

The Nearly Man was created and written in the 1970s by Arthur  Hopcraft who also successfully adapted John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy for television. It chronicles the political and domestic life of a talented middle-class Labour MP,  the dilemmas and intricacies of the political scene and is well worth hunting down.

Director of James Bonney MP Georgia Leanne Harris makes the most of lacklustre material and has some nice tricks. The play even informally starts before the lights go down, with Bonney greeting audience members for instance.

However nothing can disguise the thin material which seems to have no inkling of truly pitting ideology against realpolitik.
Truth to tell, the left has often dominated playwriting and much popular comedy since the second half of the last century. When political comedy and satire wallpaper the media, with comedians like Mark Thomas and Mark Steele producing angry satire and drawing blood, a political farce really needs to know its stuff.

James Bonney MP is neither a classic farce nor a political satire and a gap in the market still exists for a really coruscating play about the state we're in. In the meantime, it's a red light.

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