You might well think that given the current circus that is British politics, a play about the Labour party is a bit too much to stomach. However, following the roaring success of This House and most recently Ink, man-of-the-moment James Graham has written a fabulous political rom-com that is genuinely funny and touchingly human.
We open on the evening of the 2017 election in a dreary Nottingham constituency office. Labour MP David Lyons (Martin Freeman) is about to lose his seat which up until now has been considered so safe that “a tub of cottage cheese could win it”. He is accompanied by his political ally Jean Whittaker, a brilliant, feisty and hilarious Tamsin Greig. We then go back twenty-seven years to 1990 in the first half before neatly looping back to the present day in the second half, all the while making various pit-stops along the way. It’s a structure that works and part of the enjoyment is watching the hairstyles and technology change from WhatsApp chats to the nostalgic whirl of a fax machine.
Freeman and Grieg are the heart of this production. With more than a slight resemblance to Much Ado’s Beatrice and Benedick they represent the uneasy relationship of old and new Labour. Freeman is a passionate Blairite MP who believes you have to be in power to make change, while Greig is the fiercely loyal hardliner, both representing two very different views on what the Labour party should be.
Freeman is on fine form and any Hobbit fans paying to see him will not be disappointed. He uses his trademark habit of stopping mid sentence and checking himself to great effect. He physically embodies the every-man and his dancing is a treat. Greig excels at deadpan delivery and her perfect comic timing ensures laughs aplenty. Despite her battle-axe persona she allows us to see chinks in her armour which shows both heart and vulnerability. Considering she only stepped in two weeks prior to opening when Sarah Lancashire withdrew from illness, she is nothing short of spectacular.
Even if your knowledge of politics is limited there is much to enjoy in this production – laugh out loud farce, cracking dialogue and almost as much drama as our current political leaders.
Rating – 4/5
Labour Of Love plays at the Noel Coward Theatre until 2 December. For more great deals on tickets and shows visit tickets.attitude.co.uk
Words by Matthew Hyde.