WORTH A LOOK?: ***1/2
WHERE: Donmar Warehouse
WHEN: 16/3 (matinee), runs to 15/4
This dramatisation of the moment in 1981 when ‘Gang Of Four’ Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins, David Owen and Bill Rodgers left the Labour party to form a party of their own is a recent history that will be familiar to many.
- Read on for reasons including how £10 standing tickets at the Donmar can be upgraded
Author Steve Waters sets the event in Owen’s east London Limehouse home where the four meet to discuss the viability of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) at a brunch presided over by Owen’s US wife Debbie (Nathalie Armin, perfect as the one character with the charm and foresight to unite the mistrusting quartet).
Tom Goodman-Hill (from Channel 4’s Humans) is used to much better effect here as the quick-tempered Owen whose preening jeopardises the pact continuously until his wife steps in to bring some emotional intelligence to the wheeler-dealering.
We always warmed to Shirley Williams in real life and here Debra Gillett not only resembles her but also gives us the easy charm which helped persuade the rest of the gang that she was their natural leader and best opponent to prime minister of the time, Margaret Thatcher.
Roger Allam is probably one of the UK’s finest actors and much-underrated and it is his Roy Jenkins with fondness for vintage wine and habit of rolling his r’s which imbibes the comedy. Rodgers was perhaps the lesser known of the four and it is fitting than that Paul Chahidi’s performance is the most understated of the gang.
Waters’ Temple won our Best Play monsta in 2015 and Limehouse isn’t quite of that standard. It felt a little too long (laboured?) and not quite as sharp as the fine performances deserved.
We struggled to get tickets for it and chose the £10 standing option because the last time we did so at this venue our seats were upgraded without charge. This time we were offered a seat on our arrival at the box office before the show if we wanted to part with the extra £30, which we did. But it did look like standing ticketholders were being upgraded to empty seats without charge shortly before curtain up. And why not?
An interesting play then and one perhaps deserving of a longer run than the Donmar has currently given it.