There was plenty of laughter from the audience for the Apollo Theatre production of James Graham’s 2017 play, ‘Labour of Love’, which follows the fortunes of a Labour MP in Nottinghamshire from 2017 to 1990 and back again.
Directed by Steve Reading, assisted by Jason Harris, the play offered a political commentary spiked with humour, made more powerful by the montages of film clips between each time-jump. John Smith’s death, Tony Blair’s election, the 7/7 bombings, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the 9/11 terror attacks, the coalition government, austerity, expense scandals, it was all in there, accompanied by music appropriate to each period, giving the audience glimpses time and again of a volatile and often scary global landscape before zeroing back in to the office of David Lyons. It really did hit hard.
The set shifted cleverly with each jump through the years, as did the fashion of Jean Whittaker, but what stayed noticeably identical was the attire of David Lyons and Len Prior, prompting the question as to whether, while everything else changes around it, politics ever really changes?
Pete Stockman and Helen Reading as David Lyons and Jean Whittaker were outstanding, effortlessly bouncing off one another as they wrangled with political challenges, matters of the heart, aerosol cans and even a dancing snowman.
Helen’s cream tea may have been questionable, but her portrayal of Jean Whittaker was anything but! She gave Jean a gritty charm and innate likeability, while Pete’s more highly-strung David had a ‘heart of gold’ quality that had the audience rooting for him to get the girl, even if he ultimately lost the seat. The emotional rise-and-fall of the play between seriousness and silliness could not have been in safer hands.
A small but well-chosen supporting cast completed the line-up, with Paul ‘watoosh!’ Gwinnett and Vicki Cook giving strong performances as Len Prior and Margot Midler respectively, with a memorable cameo from Fiona Gwinnett the finishing touch, as Gina Frascatti. Julie Jones as Elizabeth Lyons gave an excellent turn, her face-offs with Helen’s Jean in equal parts humorous and cringeworthy as the two come to blows on a personal as well as a political level.
“You think camping outside the quarry every month isn’t politics? ‘Cause it is,” says Jean Whittaker early on in Act 2, and it’s a statement that sticks. Another such moment was the reveal of Jean’s seemingly humorous ‘mirror poem’ to David, a reminder that one message can be read in two completely different ways, depending on your angle. And that, really, is what this play does best: just as you relax into the comedy, you’re hit with something that makes you stop, pull back, and think.
Every choice in the staging and delivery of this play was so clearly deliberate, the possible interpretations of each one thought out, and yet still it is a near certainty that each audience will come away with a variety of feelings and opinions – and talking points.
But then I get the feeling that’s exactly the idea.
Book now to see the remaining performances: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/apollotheatre/labour-of-love/e-byvmxj