Duke of York’s Theatre, London – until 2 December 2017
Even as a kid I loved election nights, watching the results tot up on television, or when my parents were involved in local politics going with them to ‘the count’ and in my own right I’m not sure which I enjoyed better – the night I was elected as the youngest member of Southampton City Council, or three years later when there was a landslide the other way and I didn’t have to do it anymore.
There’s certainly a surfeit of election nights in Labour of Love, enough even to dent my enthusiasm as we spiral back and forth between Kinnock and Corbyn, and Martin Freeman’s bright boy Blairite David Lyons is also caught in the trap between an eagerness for power and the relentless stream of complaints from his constituents. He relies on the redoubtable Jean, a hereditary member from the days when anyone with a flat cap or a whippet automatically followed the red flag. Before Blair changed it to a red rose – ‘because, like New Labour, it looks pretty and is full of pricks.’
Since he couldn’t forge a punning structural analogy from ‘Love’s Labours Lost’ and resorted to Much Ado, the idea of a Blairite Benedick and a Bennite Beatrice in combative courtship is a tad obvious, yet James Graham’s script takes us well beyond easy political quips and while it’s not quite the wonderful inside job be made of This House, and it concedes a slightly farce-ey finish, the endless bantering and political jibing is well delivered by both leads.
Surprisingly so for Tamsin Greig, because the North (even the version of Nottinghamshire shown here) is not really her constituency, and when Sarah Lancashire pulled out, I’d have first phoned Nicola Walker whose work in Last Tango in Halifax pretty much redefined chip-on-the-shoulder cardigan-wearing northern acting for the post-Priestley generation.
Despite an elegant angularity you can’t conceal with frumpy clothes, Greig is never less than credible, and many of the lines shine brighter through her innate comic timing, but when Freeman’s character eventually realises what she means to him, it feels more strange than the author intended that he didn’t see it earlier.
Rachael Stirling plays Lyons’ wife – a successful lawyer, how very Cherie Blair – as a heartless bitch but it’s hard to say whether that’s uncaring scripting or directorial interpretation between the actress and Jeremy Herrin. Either way, it’s less well drawn than the central characters.
The design is excellent , Duncan McLean makes full use of TV footage presented on the front cloth as the successive election dates move backwards in time in the first half and return in the second. Changes in hairstyles and fashion are also slick, as is the pointed difference between black and white TV and colour flatscreen, and the nostalgic whir of a fax machine contrasted with the ping of a ‘text from Tony’.
Mr Graham is on an electoral roll. Can’t wait for the next one.
until 2 December
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