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Martin Freeman (David Lyons), Tamsin Greig (Jean Whittaker) in Labour Of Love (Photo: Johan Persson)

Martin Freeman (David Lyons), Tamsin Greig (Jean Whittaker) in Labour Of Love (Photo: Johan Persson)

Reasons to see: Labour Of Love

First Published 4 October 2017, Last Updated 27 April 2020

Labour Of Love follows the relationship between modernist, ambitious Labour MP David Lyons (Martin Freeman) and his constituency agent; principled, no nonsense Jean Whittaker (Tamsin Greig), against the backdrop of the Labour Party over 25 years from Kinnock to Blair to Corbyn. This razor-sharp political comedy reunites James Graham and director Jeremy Herrin following their previous collaboration on This House, and plays at the Noël Coward Theatre. Here are our picks of reasons to see Labour Of Love.

Martin Freeman as David Lyons (Photo: Johan Persson)

The writing

It’s no mean feat to make a play that’s just shy of three hours fly by, but James Graham has the magic touch. His most recent West End hits, This House and Ink both clocked in at around 2 hours 45 minutes, and Labour Of Love runs at 2 hours 50. Thanks to James’ witty and pacy writing, the play never drags, and is packed full of zingers that you’ll be desperately saving in your mental banter-bank.

The performances

The names Martin Freeman (David Lyons) and Tamsin Greig (Jean Whittaker) are probably enough to shift tickets on their own, but this is no stunt casting. Tamsin Greig stepped into the role at late notice after Sarah Lancashire had to withdraw due to illness, and now you simply can’t imagine anyone else doing justice to the role. Both Martin and Tamsin have perfect comic timing and buckets of chemistry. While other performers do appear throughout the play (with Rachael Stirling getting plenty of laughs as the snooty, Cambridge-educated Mrs Lyons), Labour Of Love is close to a two-hander, and the leads are a joy to watch.

The design

The first half of the play moves backward from present-day politics, opening on Labour MP David Lyons as he loses his seat in North England in June’s snap election (a seat which, in all its history, has always been red), to 1990. This passing of time relies heavily on BBC archive footage of the last 27 years of British politics, played on multiple screens, to the tune of whatever song would have been the hit of the day. In the background, the set rotates to reveal David’s office throughout the ages. Nostalgic laughs are drawn from the audience as we encounter Teletext, fax machines, giant mobile phones, and the joy of a washer-dryer with a timer, as Jean proclaims whilst in the office “I’ve got a spin cycle about to start…and I’m not even there!”. The second act moves in reverse, opening in 1990 and moving forward to present day. It’s genius. 

Tamsin Greig at Jean Whittaker (Photo: Johan Persson)

The relevance

Given that it’s a piece of new writing drawing inspiration from very recent events, the play is of course relevant. However, the examination of the British political system, particularly that of the Labour Party across the years, suggests that we will never learn, and that history inevitably repeats itself.

Labour Of Love plays at the Noel Coward Theatre until 2 December.

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