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Review: Labour of Love, at Noel Coward Theatre

Comedy and compassion as Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig excel in story of a long-serving Labour MP

13 October, 2017 — By Catherine Usher

Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig in Labour of Love. PHOTO: JOHAN PERSSON

THIS new play by James Graham (of This House fame) focuses on key points during a Nottinghamshire Labour MP’s 27-year tenure, based solely at his shabby constituency office.

Starting off in June 2017, when Labour is making inroads at Theresa May’s snap election – but David Lyons (Martin Freeman) is in real danger of losing his seat – the first half works back throughout the decades as the leader’s picture on the constituency office wall changes from Jeremy Corbyn to Ed Miliband to Tony Blair to Neil Kinnock.

Over time, it emerges that David earned his position in a by-election before Margaret Thatcher left Downing Street and was firmly established by the heady days of 1997 and Blair’s landslide victory.

The comic lines come thick and fast, particularly from quick-witted, sarcastic constituency agent Jean (Tamsin Greig), who dismisses Tories as a bunch of “posh squirrels fighting in a bag”.

Both Freeman and Greig play flat-vowelled Midlanders and it’s surprising how quickly they convince with their accents.

The entire play adopts an unwaveringly sympathetic tone towards the Labour cause, making one wonder what a card-carrying Conservative might think of the whole thing.

Unfortunately, the only self-serving character (it’s never implied that she’s a Tory, she just behaves like one) is David’s wife Elizabeth (Rachael Stirling), who is somewhat of a caricature. Stirling is an outstanding actress but she’s limited as to what she can do with the horsey stereotype.

Despite all the politics, personal relationships lie at the play’s heart and in this area, Freeman and Greig excel. They convey depth, humour, despair, conviction and spirit, but only when they let their vulnerability show can they fully communicate.

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