The political comedy Labour of Love by seasoned writer-director team James Graham and Jeremy Herrin (previously widely successful with This House) has just opened at the Noël Coward Theatre. Labour MP David Lyons (Martin Freeman) and his constituency agent Jean Whittaker (Tamsin Greig) tensely follow the results of the 2017 general election in Nottinghamshire. Even though Labour has been gaining seats, Lyons is about to lose his own. Just as they are about to face the press, the play takes us back in time: we follow the up and downs both of David’s career and the Labour Party as a whole – through Corbyn, Blair, and all the way back to Kinnock. The first half ends with Lyons wide-eyed and idealist arrival at the constituency – the second half picks up from there and works itself forwards into modern times again.
The time transitions are beautifully orchestrated by Set and Costume designer Lee Newby and Video and Projection designer Duncan McLean. There are multiple layers to the set and the projections: large screens and rows of TV sets play clips from poignant historical moments in UK politics, as well as clips created for Freeman’s MP character (planting trees, talking to citizens, etc). This creates an effect of clips within clips.
The combination of Graham’s clever writing and Freeman’s and Greig’s superb performances draw wonderful life-like characters. The actors’ performances are as natural and authentic as if they had truly lived through the 27-year-old struggles and friendship. Freeman makes his Lyons absolutely lovable and heartfelt, while Greig is fantastic at showing emotion – while seemingly suppressing all of them. “Labour of Love” weaves delicate interpersonal relationships, but the characters also act as stand-ins for the camps that Labour voters are divided into: the ideological core, the more centred compromising voters, as well as the inflexible intellectual left (such as Len Prior, played by Dickon Turrell). They’re set to a backdrop where cultish beliefs clash with class backgrounds, community with Westminster, electability with principles.
Describing “Labour of Love” as a political comedy is accurate, but at the same time grossly oversimplified – there is so much more to it. Never a boring history lesson, it entertains with its social commentary from digitalization to the use of emojis, heartwarming moments, punchy sidesplitting one-liners and philosophical debates. There is a great amount of situational comedy and slapstick reminiscent of impeccable Fawlty Tower timing….and pairing it with a Much Ado About Nothing love story.
Love’s labour is not lost in this play and it’s worth seeing for this miracle alone: it’s managing to make politicians seem sympathetic.
Reviewed by Lisa Theresa Downey-Dent
Photo: Johan Persson
Labour Of Love is playing at the Noel Coward Theatre until 2 December 2017. Book tickets