Labour of Love & Ink: Review Roundup of James Graham’s Latest West End Plays



Following the incredible This House, which finished its transfer run back in February, writer James Graham now has two more plays running not only in the West End, but on the same street!

Ink is currently playing at the Duke of York’s after opening at the Almeida in July, while Labour of Love, a comedy about the Labour Party, opened this week at the Noël Coward.

What do the critics think about Graham’s latest West End offerings? We’ve rounded up the reviews…

LABOUR OF LOVE

Labour MP David Lyons cares about modernisation and “electability”… his constituency agent, Jean Whittaker cares about principles and her community. Set away from the Westminster bubble in the party’s traditional northern heartlands, 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? Starring Martin Freeman and Tamsin Greig.

– The Guardian: ★★★★ 

Jeremy Herrin’s ebullient production, for the Michael Grandage Company and Headlong, 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 stepped into the role of Jean at short notice, replacing Sarah Lancashire, but she makes it totally her own. She captures perfectly the character’s passion, prickly wit and belief that, whatever her convictions, an agent’s duty lies in loyalty to her MP.

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–  The Telegraph: ★★★★ 

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, copious quantities of wit and in its closing stages a stirring amount of romantic love, as the melancholy-making passage of time runs up against the impervious, cyclical nature of politics.

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– RadioTimes: ★★★★ 

This is fundamentally an optimistic as well as an honest play. The performances, it has to be said, are excellent. Freeman is understated in an affable rumpled sort of way, but raises his passions with skill and judiciousness. Grieg is also an extremely engaging on stage presence and she delivers her many quips with the kind of aplomb and comic timing we have come to expect from this brilliant actress; (and it’s a particular achievement given that she stepped into the shoes of Sarah Lancashire at the last minute).

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– Metro Newspaper: ★★★★ 

Graham mostly manages to keep at bay the inevitable will-they-or-won’t-they romantic sub-plot. And the evening rests too heavily on the improbable behaviour of the MP’s archetypically snobbish wife. But the dialogue is smart and punchy, and the fiery Greig and placid Freeman make a superb double act.

Freeman is our Tom Hanks. Neither good-looking nor bad, he has the kind of face whose distinguishing feature is its sheer ordinariness. Go on, describe him. See? But from this blank canvas a quiet charisma exudes, and when his Lyons roars with political passion you can’t take your eyes off him.

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– 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.

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Labour of Love runs at the Noël Coward Theatre until 2nd December, with tickets available HERE.

INK

A young and rebellious Rupert Murdoch asks the impossible and launches Larry Lamb’s (The Sun’s first editor) quest: to give the people what they want. No matter the cost. The play is set in 1969 and charts the rise of The Sun – the newest tabloid on Fleet Street – and how the unorthodox changes made then have shaped our newspapers today.

– TimeOut: ★★★★★

It’s the opposite of worthy, preachy or boring. But it’s also amazingly nuanced, thanks to superb acting, especially from Carvel, who is so good that he actually makes you root for Murdoch. He’s basically one of the best character actors on the planet; a shapeshifter who is totally unrecognisable from role to role. He leans into Murdoch, playing him with a slithery, nervous charisma, a weirdly reptilian stoop, and a queasy conscience. It’s like a cross between Mr Burns and George Smiley, with an occasional lizard flicker. Hold the front page: this one’s a smasher.

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– Evening Standard: ★★★★★

Ink is a welcome sort of theatre: political without being preachy, contemporary without necessarily being set in the present and, crucially, rich in entertainment value with its continual supply of zinging, witty lines. The first half is one of the most cherishable 80 minutes of drama I can recall.

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– Independent: ★★★★★

This superb play by James Graham, now transferred to the West End from the Almeida, makes it feel fresh. Also, because it eschews the all too easy mockery for an even-handed approach, it is truly thought-provoking.

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Ink runs at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 6th January, with tickets available HERE.


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