Labour of Love
Playwright: James Graham Director: Jeremy Herrin
James Graham has lately joined the ranks of playwrights “who are not simply prolific but virtually ubiquitous”, said Ian Shuttleworth in the FT. His breakthrough hit, This House, about 1970s Westminster whips’ offices, heads out on tour in the new year. His feted Fleet Street drama, Ink, is at the Duke of York’s. And he is already in rehearsals for his next play, about the coughing quiz cheat on Who Wants to Be a
Millionaire? In the meantime, said Michael Billington in The Guardian, Graham has yet another hit on his hands – this “brilliant new play” which charts the ups and downs of the Labour party over recent decades with “surprising tenderness” and a romcom plot that recalls Much Ado About Nothing.
This “vastly enjoyable” evening “sugars its analysis of the internal struggles of the Labour party with an extremely high gag rate”, said Holly Williams in The Independent. Martin Freeman plays David, a Blairite MP, while Tamsin Greig is Jean, his “staunchly Leftie” long-time constituency officer. We track this sparring pair from the 2017 election back to 1990 (and then, after the interval, forward again to the present day) watching the “sparks fly” between people holding radically different views of what their party should be. If that sounds dry, fear not. “Graham’s writing, brought to life with real warmth and humanity” by director Jeremy Herrin, is such that his characters are real, complex people rather than partisan mouthpieces. And “it’s rare that five minutes go past without a proper roar of laughter”.
I admired Freeman’s “rumpled sincerity”, but Greig steals the show, said Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. She makes “even low-level backchat soar to comic heights”, and her character’s “no-nonsense confidence, warmth and kookiness proves a snug fit for her strengths”. I wasn’t convinced about all of Graham’s characterisation: Rachael Stirling as David’s snooty lawyer wife is “saddled with the sort of horsey, stuck-up stereotype even Class War would find lacking in nuance”. In the main, though, this is deft, witty and stirring stuff.
Tamsin Greig: steals the show