Labour of Love

Play­wright: James Gra­ham Di­rec­tor: Jeremy Her­rin

The Week - - Drama Arts -

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

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