Labour of Love, 4****, London

by James Graham

Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4AU to 2 December 2017.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2 hr 30 mins One interval.

TICKETS: 0844 482 5141
Review: William Russell 4 October.

A very funny comedy about Labour politics
This splendid battle of the sexes and ideology set in the Labour Party takes is through the career of a David Lyons, a Blairte MP, from his arrival at Westminster to the day when he is about to lose his Midlands seat and his relationship with his agent, Jean Whittaker, a working class left winger. The jokes are good, the story is told in flashback, which works remarkably well, and is illustrated in Jeremy Herrin’s production with lots of very well used video clips of politicians from Atlee to Kinnock to Blair and Corbyn as well as that hate figure for some – Margaret Thatcher along the way.

Lyons is a moderniser, a realist about what Labour needs to do and totally out of his depth in the seat he has been plonked in by the powers that be, something his feisty career minded wife – reminiscent of Cherie of course – realises straight away. For her the town has no high street. Kensington has one. Jean was the wife of the man whose seat he has inherited, but stays on as his agent. There is a lovely moment when she mentions his having been to Cambridge. No, it was Oxford, and he read PPE. She says she did too, but at the Open University and she got a first. The subject is dropped.

Martin Freeman manages the transition from middle aged man facing up to the fact he has lost his seat to young moderniser who hasn’t a clue perfectly – he changes his wig but it his body movements that make it work – while Rachel Stirling is suitably ice cold as the wife who hates the place – and eventually leaves him. But the evening belongs to Tamsin Greig as Jean. She gets the best lines, delivers them with relish, is both funny and tough as old boots as she stomps round the dreary constituency office laying down the law, and telling her Member the facts of constituency life.

Graham has created a first rate comedy about grass roots politics, material that should be unpromising but turns out to be rich in possibilities as the old left and the new militant left set about destroying Lyons’s world. In another era it could have been the script for one of those Hepburn and Tracey movies in which opposites clash, attract and fight to a bitter end which proves not so much a victory for either combatant but an armed truce.

David Lyons: Martin Freeman.
Jean Whittaker: Tamsin Greig.
Elizabeth Lyons. Rachel Stirling.
Mr Shen: Kwong Loke.
Len Prior: Dickon Tyrrell.
Margot Midler: Susan Wokoma.
Ensemble: George Beach; Emma Bown; Tina Chiang.

Director: Jeremy Herrin.
Set & Costume Designer: Lee Newby.
Lighting Designer: Neil Austin.
Sound Designer: Paul Arditti.
Video & Projection Designer: Duncan McLean.
Hair & Wigs designer: Richard Mawbey.
Choreographer: Sian Williams.
Dialect & Voice Coach: Richard Ryder.

2017-10-05 19:00:56

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