The Absence of War

With questions about cash for access ringing in our ears, the latest production at Norwich’s Theatre Royal puts a dangerous proposition: there might be honour in politics.

A revival of David Hare’s The Absence of War, the play charts a fictionalised version of Labour’s 1992 general election defeat, though it is thankfully less anoraky than that sounds.

It is rich with humour, if lacking in the bite of more modern takes such as The Thick Of It – a comparison made unavoidable by James Harkness’ portrayal of a head wonk with all the mannerisms of Chris Addison.

As struggling Labour leader George Jones, Reece Dinsdale is warm but with a heavy heart, though the text never really gives him the chance to demonstrate the frustration it insists is bubbling underneath.

Cyril Nri is superb as political adviser Oliver Dix, a role Hare disputes was based on former Norwich MP Charles Clarke.

Don Gallagher lends easy caricature to his roles as the incumbent Tory PM and a smarmy TV interviewer, and Helen Ryan gives a bittersweet cameo as a party veteran.

The text proselytises a little too earnestly in places; we are told of Jones’ greatness and never convinced, meaning the same is true of the play’s conceit that his defeat is a tragedy.

But it still poses timely and intriguing questions with an election looming.