When a play has two acclaimed actors in its starring roles, the ability to bring in an audience each night goes without saying. However, when you get the chance to experience Tamsin Greig’s interpretation of Jean Whittaker, the agent to Martin Freeman’s David Lyons MP, in this political comedy, they prove their household name status. Exploring the repetition of the Labour party’s history within a time frame of the past 27 years, Jean and David do what they can to hold their labour seat in the northern midland area.
James Graham’s Labour of Love is a cornucopia of dry wit and quips mixed with topical humour, but it is not all fun and games as the pressures and complications of being a member of parliament rains down on these characters. Directed by Jeremy Herrin, this is essentially a two-hander, with Freeman and Greig masterfully occupying the stage for the majority of the production. Nonetheless, we are introduced to equally wonderful characters such as the bouncy Len Prior (played by Dickon Tyrell), and Susan Wokoma’s ditzy but determined Margot Midler during the piece, absolutely matching the talent of their co-stars. The glaring mismatched pairing of David Lyons and his wife Elizabeth (Rachael Stirling) cleverly represents the way in which Westminster seems to regard the small towns through the rest of the country, with Elizabeth viewing the constituency as simple and easy to deal with, and her efforts to relate to the other local members falls on deaf ears. This play spans such a long period of time for these characters to work together, and the way in which their relationship dynamics change through this period is really something to behold. We chop and change between eras, the events which take place in parliament and in their personal lives shaping the characters we eventually come back to in the present day.
One of the many enjoyable elements of this piece is the set design by Lee Newby, in particular the revolve used to take us from one period in time, to another. The entire play takes place in the same room, and the set has been decorated to reflect the changing of time, such as the television growing in size with every travel backwards, and there is even a moment when Tyrell pulls his brick of a mobile phone out of his suitcase when it starts ringing. Through Neil Austin’s lighting design, projections and screens are used to broadcast footage of past leaders of the Labour party over the transitions of scenes, and to make these characters appear younger, Richard Mawbey uses wigs not only to reflect age, but also the style of the time.
With even just a basic knowledge of the Labour party and it’s history, one and all are able to appreciate this informed comment on politics. Asking the question of whether it is better to advocate change or remain the head of the constituency, Labour of Love also explores the journeys that people go on to become, and believe in, what they are and do today. It lets us know that through everything, life will go on, and all we can do is grow, adapt and learn.
Labour of Love is playing at the Noël Coward Theatre until 2nd December 2017. For more information and tickets, see labouroflovetheplay.co.uk.
Photo: Johan Persson