The problem with politics at the moment is that there is just far too much of it about and if we take the human element out, it makes rather good theatre. With Brexit, Trump and questions as to who will be PM this time next week, do we really need another political play? Well, let’s find out with a visit to the White Bear Theatre for Michael McManus’ play An Honourable Man.
It’s by-election time in Teesside Central and, against all the odds, the incumbent MP, Joe Newman (Timothy Harker) has won a famous victory and increased his majority. The reason for the surprise is that Joe is standing as an independent rather than as the Labour candidate he had previously been. His constituency party has been infiltrated by Momentum and tried to have him deselected. After a battle with the activists, particularly the young Josh Phillips (Thomas Mahy), Joe gave in, resigned his seat and forced the by-election that he has now won. Now, the problem facing Joe and his team – seasoned political secretary Anne (Liz Bowerman) and power-hungry young spad, Sam (Max Keeble) – is what to do next. Joe’s win seems to have galvanised something in the public who are disillusioned with the two main political parties and are looking for something or someone new to believe in. Anne and Sam try to persuade Joe to form his own party and take on the system but he isn’t sure and turns to his closest political friend, veteran Labour MP Maggie (Annie Tyson) to discuss the options. He also talks with his long-term friend Liz (Dee Sadler) with whom he has shared many secrets and thoughts – not to mention a love of Shakespeare – over the years. As the moment draws near for Joe to make a decision, will he become the leader of a revolution against the status quo and, if so, what will he have to give of himself in order to achieve success?
An Honourable Man is a political play with a difference. Not only does it have a pretty fine cast but, the addition of the ‘Truth News’ bulletins and political interviews – with some very well known faces on the big screen – gives an added touch of realism that works very well. Michael McManus has put a great deal into the writing as he takes Joe from proud independent electoral winner through to being on the verge of achieving real power for himself and those that travel with him. And it is quite a journey. Without giving too much away, I’m not personally sure that Joe, the man we meet in the first half, would necessarily go the way of Act II Joe but I can see how, with the influence of characters such as Anne and Sam, the temptation to jump on the populist wagon, all in the name of breaking the mould and doing the public good, would be difficult to resist. I do think there is a minor problem with the story in that there is a subplot to do with Joe being a semi-closeted gay man that feels slightly redundant and, to me, slows the story down unnecessarily, though it does mean there is a very impressive and welcome cameo for “Andrew Christian”. There is a lot of humour in the writing, especially in the first act, which, at times, exposes the sheer ludicrousness of the political system and the people who move within it. This is particularly true of the wonderfully portrayed PR who, while being an over the top pastiche of the type of PRs that haunt politics these days.
Mike Lees set is sparse – a sofa, two chairs and under-desk pedestals – but the addition of the television and the black walls, on which ideas are written, make the space very flexible and gives Director Jolley Gosnold plenty of scope to create the various scenes around Westminster and beyond.
Timothy Harker is very convincing as the politician who starts off as a warrior and goes through many changes, and some compromises as he journeys from the political wilderness to being one of the most recognised politicians in the land. There is something about Timothy’s voice that feels very reassuring and believable, even when spouting vacuous political promises. My other favourite character was Liz. The scene in Joe’s flat where he and Liz just sit and chat is perfectly written and played, with Timothy and Dee being so perfect together that if they ever wanted to make a movie of Will and Grace in their later years, the casting has been done already. Having singled out these two, I have to say that all the performers were excellent and give a quick mention to Thomas Mahy for bringing his two diametrically opposite characters to life so well.
All told, I really enjoyed An Honourable Man. Whilst I did think it was slightly too long and tried to have a little too much in the story, it was really entertaining and, considering the political machinations currently going on in Westminster, pretty believable. As an example of the ‘be careful what you wish for’ style of storytelling, it definitely hit the spot.
Review by Terry Eastham
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.
Written by Michael McManus
Directed by Jolley Gosnold
Honourable Man Productions
in association with the White
Bear Theatre present
AN HONOURABLE MAN
by Michael McManus
White Bear Theatre
138 Kennington Park Road