Labour of Love – Review – Noel Coward Theatre, London
By Jen Grimble, November 2017
In a time of wide political unrest, it seems only natural that the British people would turn to humour to pull themselves through. Luckily the latest play from James Graham will help us to do just that. Set in an old mining town in Nottinghamshire, Labour of Love is a nostalgic comedy that flawlessly combines passionate political opinion with tender personal moments.
In essence the play walks the audience through the turbulent history of the Labour party, from the time when “a lemon would be elected” if it were running for Labour, to the loss of northern seats to the Conservatives in the 2017 election. Graham draws on key historical moments in a way that gets the audience romanticising about the good old days.
Martin Freeman is MP David Lyons, who has held his seat for the past 27 years. His brash but dedicated agent, Jean Whittaker (played spectacularly by Tamsin Greig), is there with him through the ups and downs of his time in office.
Set solely inside their rundown local constituency headquarters, the play travels from 2017 to 1990, showing highlights from Jean and David’s personal and professional lives. Cleverly, the second half of the play reverses this progression of time, adding details to the story with each year, allowing the audience to understand the lives and relationships of these two characters, piece by piece.
Sentiment is rife, not just in the dusty furniture and memorable fashion choices, but with the candid interactions between characters, and the guided tour of some of Britain’s most fundamental political and social moments.
Grieg is faultless, offering 90% of the play’s humour and almost all of its tenderness. Freeman is a character we all sympathise with, battling democracy and waging a seemingly unwinnable war, and he does so with a fierce truth.
Hilarious, clever and deeply imaginative, this play outshines so many from the shadows of theatre history. With a shrewd and considered plot, simple stage settings and unrivalled performances from Grieg and Freeman, Labour of Love is far more than a story about politics.
Showing at the Noël Coward theatre in London for just 10 short weeks, book your tickets before you lose your seat!
images: Johann Persson