James Bonney MP

Reviewer's Rating

The White Bear is an old pub in Kennington, a part of London best known for its proximity to The Oval cricket ground. But nestling above the pub is a small ‘fringe’ theatre, to which excellent beer can be taken from downstairs. The air-conditioned auditorium was a welcome relief yesterday evening from the heat wave outside. How much heat was generated by the play?
Billed as a “political comedy”, the play has a more serious purpose. It pits a sitting Labour MP, of the ‘moderate’, Blairite wing of the party, against a young activist, of the socialist, Corbynite persuasion. The playwright, whose sympathies are well to the left of the Labour Party, makes no secret of which side he is on, but aims to “give both sides equal weight”. The outcome is probably not what he intended. The young Corbynista is full of passionate intensity, with all the self-righteousness of youth. He is living with the MP’s daughter, whom he makes a show of treating as his equal. But one does not envy her living with such a hectoring paragon of political correctness.
James Bonney himself is an altogether more sympathetic character. He is fallible. Ambitious for political office, he regards his appointment as Shadow Minister for Electoral Registration as a step on the way to greatness. He makes little attempt to resist the advances of his pretty secretary, and then tries desperately to keep their affair a secret, particularly from his wife, to whom he lies shamelessly. The comic element of the play, such as it is, lies principally in the hard time given to the hapless MP by his feisty wife, after she catches him in flagrante with the secretary.
Yes, James Bonney fully merits the low esteem in which are Members of Parliament are generally held by the public, and he comes to a bad end. It is heartening, however, to see that his Hard Left rival also has to do a shabby deal in order to win power. Politics is the art of the possible, and James Bonney is human, all too human.
Written at a time when most Labour MPs, like Mr Bonney, were trying to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn, the play is still topical now that those critical voices have been somewhat hushed. The strife between the right and left wings of the Labour Party, represented by the two protagonists here, is not over yet, not by a long chalk.