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Labour of Love at the Noël Coward theatre, London – Review Round-Up

James Graham’s new play Labour of Love starring Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig opens to four-star reviews at London’s Noël Coward Theatre.

A brilliant new play, James Graham not only provides a portrait of the ups and downs of the Labour part; he also charts a turbulent relationship between an MP (Freeman) and his constituency agent played by Greig.

This is a clash of philosophy, culture and class against the backdrop of the Labour Party over 25 years as it moves from Kinnock through Blair into Corbyn…and beyond?

Greig gives a career defining performance as constituency agent Jean – ringing every comic element from the script, her portrayal is both formidable and warming.

A reviews round-up for Labour of Love at the Noël Coward theatre, London

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Labour of Love runs until 2 December at the Noël Coward theatre, London

REVIEWS ROUND-UP

STAR RATING The Guardian

“Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig give sparkling performances as a reforming MP and his constituency agent fighting through Labour’s fluctuating fortunes”

“Jeremy Herrin’s ebullient production makes rich use of film footage to record Labour’s fluctuating fortunes and is sparklingly acted.”

“Freeman not only makes David likable and funny, especially when he reveals his hidden talent for dancing, but suggests that he is ardently sincere in his attacks on Labour cultishness and his belief that “you win from the centre”.

“Greig captures perfectly the character’s passion, prickly wit and belief that, whatever her convictions, an agent’s duty lies in loyalty to her MP.”

Among many other things, the play is about the decline of a community which leads a party worker to poignantly claim: “There is no here any more.”

“[Graham] not only provides a portrait of the historic ups and downs of the Labour party; he also charts, with surprising tenderness, a turbulent relationship between an MP and his constituency agent.”

Michael Billington, The Guardian

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STAR RATING Evening Standard

“Like all Graham’s work this is diligently researched and informative. At times sitcommy contrivance swamps satirical sharpness. But in its brightest moments this nearly three-hour show is an inventive hybrid of Much Ado About Nothing, Yes Minister and Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along.”

“Martin Freeman is Lyons, perfectly catching his mix of playfulness and sincerity — and particularly good at reacting to abuse.”

“Tamsin Greig makes [Jean] wonderfully quirky and abrupt — yet with a hint of vulnerability always peeping out between the sarcastic barbs.”

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard

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STAR RATING Time Out

“Labour of Love’ is basically a romcom. It’s a little cheesier than ‘This House’ and ‘Ink’, but it should be able to reach out beyond its base.”

“Above all, it’s a play about love – of party, friends, country – and it’s testament to Labour that despite an impressively long history of self-destruction, you can’t for a second imagine a play like this being written about the other lot. Raise the scarlet standard high!”

“A huge help are the terrific performances from Freeman and Greig. They’re very different characters – him slick and metrosexual, her bolshy and exaggeratedly folksy, with a running gag about them failing to get each other’s jokes – but they’re united by a heap of personal damage and a deep-seated belief in the party. Greig, in particular, is enormously impressive, nailing her East Mids accent and playing totally against type”

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

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STAR RATING The Times

“Sharp and funny political rom-com hits upon a winning combination.”

“This is a very clever play by the political anorak and wunderkind James Graham, who seems to be prolific to the point of tireless.”

Ann Treneman, Times

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STAR RATING The Daily Telegraph

“Copious quantities of wit and in its closing stages a stirring amount of romantic love.”

“What’s striking is just how coherent this up-to-the-minute response is. It gets to the heart of the ideological rifts and tiffs that have beset Labour since its divisive fightback against the humiliations of the Thatcher years. And it does so with remarkable deftness.

“Greig makes even low-level back-chat soar to comic heights. The character’s no-nonsense confidence, warmth and kookiness proves a snug-fit for her strengths – the actress has an air of deadpan aloofness that can, with just a subtle shift of expression, resemble a cry for help. It possibly ranks as one of her finest hours.”

Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph

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STAR RATING Financial Times

“James Graham’s play cleverly explores the dilemma at the heart of the Labour party”

“Jeremy Herrin’s production is as masterly as ever, right down to its choice of sourced music, beginning with The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” — aka “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” — and ending with Brinsley Schwarz’s recording of “(What’s So Funny ’Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”. Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig as the central couple show off their funny bones without attenuating the sometimes intense political argument.”

“It’s a clever structuring, letting us see that there was never a golden age when Labour’s path and purpose were clear and unambiguous. There was always grind, always compromise, personal and factional conflict: the sea-change of Blairism in the 1990s and return to socialist vision under Jeremy Corbyn since.”

“Just as cannily, Graham weaves in a romcom dimension between the MP and his constituency agent and right-hand woman Jean Whittaker; ending on this aspect rather than the political one is a cop-out, of course, but it’s an obviously justified one.”

Ian Shuttleworth, FT

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STAR RATING The Stage

“A magnificent performance from Tamsin Greig saves this play about Labour Party infighting.”

“Greig milks every comic moment, using her effortless timing to eke out unexpected laughs. She makes Jean a powerful mixture of warm and formidable, fleshing out the slightness of the ‘will they, won’t they?’ plot by creating this loveable battleaxe.”

“Light, political and nostalgic. It’s not great comedy, but it’s a good play and perfectly performed.”

Tim Bano, The Stage

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