So can Labour holdthe West End?
With James Graham’s supersoaraway hit
Ink, about the rise of The Sun, playing to full houses down the street from the theatre where his new play has just opened, this young playwright’s star couldn’t be higher. But
Labour Of Love, while capturing a world with great success, is not in the same satirical class as the indelible Ink.
Set in the tatty constituency office of Yorkshire-born, Oxfordeducated David Lyons (Martin Freeman), Labour MP for a post-industrial Nottinghamshire seat, it charts the slow death of a Labour Party stronghold in the late Eighties, the ascent and fall of Blairism and the love affair between an MP and his prickly agent.
It opens on Election night 2017, with the result of a recount expected at any minute. The superb Tamsin Greig snaps and crackles to perfection as Jean – his idealistic agent – who knows, as usual, more than he does. From there the action goes back to 1990, when Lyons won a by-election, and every subsequent change of government is richly illustrated with video footage.
There are good jokes aplenty: ‘Do you know why we chose a rose for Labour?’ ‘Because it looks pretty but it’s full of pricks?’ But too many are, well, laborious, such as the ancient one about Peter Mandelson’s ’tache: ‘What’s he hiding?’ ‘His top lip?’ Greig’s Jean is the only character with real depth and texture. A lightweight Freeman fails to suggest the gravitas of a man who once held a Cabinet post. Lyons’s posh lawyer wife Elizabeth (Rachael Stirling), wearing jodhpurs and stilettos for a march against job losses, is as crassly implausible as the Chinese businessman interested in building a new factory. Not at all a labour in vain – given a trim, it could become a much safer seat in the West End.
Left: Tamsin Greig as agent Jean. Below left: Martin Freeman plays Labour MP David Lyons