Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Labour of Love
Olney Theatre Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Born Yesterday and If I Forget

Julia Coffey and M. Scott McLean
Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography
Once the audience gets past the differences between U.S. and British electoral politics, Labour of Love, receiving its U.S. premiere in the Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab at the Olney Theatre Center in suburban Maryland, is an entertaining comedy about finding compromise at both the national and the personal levels.

Playwright James Graham has written several plays about British parliamentary politics, but—for a U.S. audience not up on the United Kingdom's ideological shifts since the 1990s—the clashes of doctrine provide the background to the way the characters react to them. The central character is David Lyons (M. Scott McLean), a Labour Party politician first elected in 1990 to a safe seat in industrial Northern England and, in 2017, seeing his own defeat to the Conservatives (Tories) despite an overall Labour surge. (To avoid confusion, the program notes that, unlike the U.S. Democratic "blue" and Republican "red" states, the Tories' color is blue and Labour is red.)

The play examines David's career through 10 scenes, with the first act going backward from 2017 and the second act returning to the same days moving forward. All the action takes place in the local constituency office in North Nottinghamshire, run by Jean Whittaker (Julia Coffey). Jean and her (unseen) husband, the previous member of Parliament who stepped down for ill health, are proud leftists and she resents that David, a centrist, is moving the district away from its roots. As summed up by Graham, what is the difference between a democratic socialist and a social democrat? Is David selling out his constituents or is he bringing their party back into power?

McLean's ingenuous manner serves him well as he stands up against Coffey, who is splendidly assertive and hilariously profane. Director Leora Morris navigates the ins and outs of the plot while helping the actors clarify their roles in the situation, most notably in the way that college-educated David butts heads with the crusty old leftist who also wanted the seat (Marcus Kyd) and with his wife, a corporate lawyer (Tessa Klein, doing the best she can with a thankless role). Emily Kester amuses as an office volunteer.

Daniel Ettinger's scenic design cleverly uses a turntable to ease the transitions without lengthy set changes. Sarah Cubbage's costumes (especially for Klein) and Jesse Belsky's lighting design are spot on and Rasean Davonte Johnson's all-encompassing projections immerse the audience in BBC election night coverage.

Olney Theatre Center
Labour of Love
September 26th - October 28th, 2018
By James Graham
Jean Whittaker, a constituency manager: Julia Coffey
David Lyons, a Labour MP: M. Scott McLean
Elizabeth Lyons, David's wife: Tessa Klein
Len Prior, a local council member: Marcus Kyd
Margot Midler, constituent: Emily Kester
Mr. Shen, an investor: Brian Kim
Directed by Leora Morris
Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or