Thursday, 5 October 2017

REVIEW: Labour of Love at the Noel Coward Theatre


James Graham is fast becoming the leading British modern author with his sharp witted comedies based on well researched insight into the events of recent decades. Our House brilliantly told the story of the hung parliaments in the seventies and Ink, now playing just along the road from Labour of Love explores Rupert Murdoch's acquisition of the Sun at beginning of seventies . Now Michael Grandage Company and Headlong bring his latest play to open in the West End, a revealing comedy about the ups and downs of the Labour Party.

This is a play of two halves. In the first half we travel back in time to 1990 and David Lyons election as constituency MP for Ashfield in the midlands through the events that shaped his career and relationship with the local constituency party who select him. In the second half we travel forward in time over the same events revealing the real truths behind the story . The result is a palindrome of events that reads differently depending on the direction of travel.

For those of us old enough to remember the Winter of discontent in 1978 , the structure of the play allows plenty of good sight gags about changing technology and social context . The appearance of a Teletext page on screen getting one such laugh. The slick staging which teleports the scene back and forward in time and clever use of video during scenes and between scenes displays a wealth of historical information and keeps the pace quick throughout.

Of course at the heart of the play is the relationship between the two protagonists . David Lyons, the MP and his agent Jean Whittaker. Martin Freeman plays the MP with a reserved conservative air, setting out the case for New Labour, doing whatever it takes to get elected. The Pragmatist and Blairite. Jean is played by Tasmin Greig, full of posturing aggression but suppressed passion, making the case of the local traditional principled party politics. The Idealist and Corbynista. As she says ironically, " I am like the Daily Mail, unreadable". 

There are some sharp clever lines about the changing political scene . "Why is a
rose used for Labour? Well it's pretty and full of pricks" or about parliamentary candidates "if you are a northern, you get butchered like on Game of Thrones" as well as references to WhatsApp groups and strictly come dancing . James Herrin directs with a steady hand , never quite descending to sitcom or farce but with plenty of well timed entrances, prop business and pauses to effectively win the laughs.

They are well supported by Dickon Tyrrell as the local old Labour constituency council member, Len Prior and Rachael Stirling as Elizabeth Lyons, the social climbing lawyer wife.

Whatever your politics, this is an accessible, enjoyable and educational evening of theatre with plenty of laughs and send you out into the real world with smile of pleasure and recognition but pondering what next for the Labour Party after their latest swing back to the left.

Review by Nick Wayne
Rating: ★★★★

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