Limehouse pulls you at the heart of Britain’s dismantling political scene in 1981, while sarcastically drawing parallels to the politics of today. “We can all agree on our passion for Europe.” The audience laughs but you feel the pain.
The play depicts the meeting of four prominent Labour politicians on a Sunday morning in Limehouse, as they discuss the compromised future of their party. The “Gang of Four” as the media called them, composed of Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, Bill Rodgers and David Owen dream to reunite left-wing voters. “I’ve never felt home in the Labour Party and yet it has been my home,” one says.
As David’s wife Debbie prepares a sophisticated macaroni and cheese and opens a 1964 bottle of Château Laffite, the four decide they want to become more than just a gang. The play retraces real life events that led to the creation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Shirley Williams (Debra Gillett) defined as an “ideal counter to Margaret Thatcher” is remarkably played.
David Owen (Tom Goodman-Hill) tries to persuade the gang to leave the Labour Party to form something new. “Our voters have no where else to go, because, comrades, we failed them,” he says in a beautiful monologue ending strongly by “I ask you, here, now, are you with me?”. But the other members aren’t easily convinced and the debate turns into a long rattle where each actor take turns standing up to elongate their personal convictions and opinions. Moreover, the play lacks movement as the whole show takes place in the same location: the Owen’s kitchen.
Only the calendar on the kitchen cabinet reminds us the scene takes place in January 1981. The rest of the décor, costumes and hairstyles fail to give sense of the past. The sarcasm saves it all but overall the play is aimed to a niche audience, most jokes being difficult to understand for those who aren’t familiar with the political landscape of the 1980s.