So can Labour holdthe West End?

The Mail on Sunday - Event - - THEATRE - Ge­orgina Brown

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

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