REVIEW: Cooking up behind the scenes politics in Limehouse, Donmar Warehouse
Steve Water's last play at the Donmar Warehouse, Temple, about the anti-capitalist protests outside St Paul's Cathedral, didn't particularly set my world on fire. It was one of those plays that while well done, it wasn't fantastic but neither was is bad. At the time I said I probably wouldn't remember it and that's how I remember it, ironically, for not being memorable.
His new play goes behind the scenes at a meeting of the so called 'Gang of Four' labour politicians who, in 1981, frustrated with the direction of the labour party broke away and set up the Social Democratic Party. It is a fictionalised account of what was discussed by the four - David Owen (Tom Goodman-Hill), Shirley Williams (Debra Gillett), Bill Rodgers (Paul Chahidi) and Roy Jenkins (Roger Allam) in the hours leading up to their break from Labour. David Owen's literary agent wife Debbie (Nathalie Armin) suggests he invites his three like-minded colleagues over for an informal brunch in order to persuade them into joining him in breaking away and over an hour and 40 minutes we track their discussions, debate and dilemma.
Given the rift in the current Labour Party, its an obvious piece of history to draw parallels with. However, the play feels structured to give each character their moment of impassioned oratory and once you realise that you are waiting for the next big speech. The rest of the play starts to feel cooked up to contrived to create drama - perhaps knowing how things ultimately end up doesn't help.
There is an epilogue, delivered by Nathalie Armin out of her character, that is supposed to tighten those parallels with the current day and asks 'what if?'. It feels tacked on and an unnecessary spoon-feeding of the message.
Limehouse will probably be more memorable than Temple because of the cooking but I think Temple was a more engaging play. I'm giving it three stars. It's one hour and 40 minutes without an interval and is at the Donmar Warehouse until 15 April.