Labour of Love, Noel Coward Theatre, review: ‘Laboured at times, but enough here to secure your vote’
PUBLISHED: 18:30 12 October 2017
Starring Martin Freeman, Tamsin Greig and Rachael Sterling
Possibly the most prolific writer currently occupying the West End, British playwright James Graham follows on from successes with dramas Ink and Monster Raving Loony with another narrative that stares down the barrel of the political gun.
Punningly entitled Labour of Love, this is a comedy that peers into the boom-and-bust travails of a jobbing politician with a headful of ideas and a freshly pressed suit. This man is David Lyons (Martin Freeman), and he is cut in the New Labour mould. Opening on 2017 election night, where May faltered and Corbyn shocked the pollsters, Lyons is facing the prospect of losing his North Midlands seat after 27 years of incumbency. He ponders his hapless predicament alongside old Labourite PA, widower and stalwart of the constituency, Jean Whittaker (Tamsin Greig).
From here, time dials back. Hair increases in volume, technology increases in crudeness and we find, at turns, a Blair acolyte and a Kinnock era newbie. Hope, optimism, fortune, bitter conflict and incredulity mix within the narrative pot, as time and history stirs us into confronting our own memories.
Lyons is painted as a keen subscriber to the centrist doctrine that would bring Labour to power. Devout to the cause he may be, but his wife, Elizabeth (Rachael Stirling), barely conceals her contempt for her husband’s shabby outpost. Marital fissures appear through discontent and focus falls on professional odd-couple David and Jean as they navigate through tumultuous times.
Jeremy Herrin’s direction is faultless. The static setting of the MP’s office is attended to with a great eye to detail, maximising nostalgia and evoking each era well. Further, the set changes are magnificently presented with a plethora of archive and fictional Lyons-related footage. Unfortunately, though, this houses humour that is set in a seesaw tug between high-and-low brow; thereby creating a strange tonal incongruity. Thankfully, as the narratives wears on there is more consistency, even if the story wanders into more generic territory.
It is fair to say that whilst Labour of Love can at times seem, well, a little laboured, there is certainly enough here in this likeable production to secure your vote.