Given the increasingly polarised, increasingly absurd state of British politics, a comic drama examining the conflict between moderate and radical perspectives could hardly be more topical. Unfortunately, James Bonney MP focuses almost entirely on the personal, rather than political, struggles of its titular character, an embittered Blairite negotiating his tangled relationships with his family and staff.
The script – writer Ian Buckley’s fifth for RedNeedle – never quite confronts the big issues, while much of its humour falls flat due to some arch dialogue and an uneven cast.
Andrew Loudon plays Bonney as a wet, wheedling and entitled manipulator, capable of passion only when his power is threatened. Challenging him in Freudian fashion is his daughter’s boyfriend, idealistic intra-party rival Malcolm, played by a spirited Ciaran Lonsdale.
Orbiting them, the play’s three female characters – Bonney’s wife, daughter and mistress respectively – are vanishingly thinly drawn and constantly condescended to. The balance is redressed a little in the second act, but even here only Karen McCaffrey, as wife Christine, makes a meaningful protest against her treatment, launching a campaign to discredit her husband.
Oscar Selfrdge’s set presents an office desk surrounded by a concertina of sliding doors, which is smoothly and effectively repositioned to define different locations. Director Georgia Leanne Harris keeps her cast darting and dancing about the space, but the performance feels flat, the pace dawdling. It is only in the closing scenes that the show starts to build momentum, as questions of loyalty and ideology finally come to the fore.