Thursday, 13 April 2017
Brilliant ..Limehouse..at the Donmar Warehouse until 15 April
Steve Water’s provides a thoughtful witty script, well acted and given an edge by the relevance of the content to events today.
A right wing Tory leader, the Labour Party split, the march forward of the right worldwide and a war hungry US president – the year 1983.
The play centres around David and Debbie Owen’s kitchen table in Limehouse. The place, where famously the Gang of Four – Owen, Roy Jenkins, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams - gather on a Sunday in January 1983 to discuss breaking away from the Labour Party to form a new party.
Owen played by Tim Goodman Hill is the ranting angry former Foreign Secretary, who cannot stand the Labour Party anymore. Not a little ego driven, Owen is desperate to break away.
Jenkins, brilliantly played by Roger Allam, is returning from his stint as head of the European Commission. He has put the idea of a new party into the public domain with his Dimbleby lecture the year before.
There is much made of Jenkins love of claret and disdain for maccaroni cheese (the meal put together by Debbie Owen).
Williams is the stalwart Labour man, devoted to Shirley Williams, prepared to follow her to the ends of the earth.
Much rancour ensues about the new party, with Williams, Jenkins and Rodgers all outlining what a wrench it would be to leave the Labour Party. Jenkins declaring “I have never felt at home in the Labour Party but it has been my home.”
Williams notably outlines the danger of the new party being rootless and just drawn from the well to do middle classes.. with a clear dig at Owen, as one such character. This ofcourse is what the Social Democratic Party turned out to be.
Owen is not really trusted by the other three, a feeling given more momentum, when they learn he has called a press conference for the late afternoon, to announce the new party.
How true this portrayal of events on that January day is open to question. The restriction of packing all the action into an hour and a half no doubt created many problems. As a result there is an uneveness, with the group careering around from agonising over whether to make the break to what name should be adopted for the new party. Rodgers suggestion of New Labour raised the biggest laugh of the night.
At one point Williams leaves to go off to do a BBC interview, with the group divided. She seems strongly against. The remaining three totally fall out, only for Williams to return from the BBC to announce she is now totally converted to the idea of a new party. It’s then the press conference and the rest is history.
The Debbie Owen character, played by Nathalie Armin, sums up at the end with some telling what ifs. What if there had been no Falklands War and the SDP had gained substantial seats at the 1983 election? What if Shirley Williams had led the new party instead of Roy Jenkins?
But the what if that should cause the most concern went unsaid, namely what if today we really are repeating history? What if this is the start of another 18 years of Tory rule, what if Labour does split and what about all those people out there who will suffer the consequences?