I wasn’t sure what to expect from LUU production of ‘New Labour’, having never heard of the play, but I didn’t expect to find something so utterly relatable, funny and deeply sad all at once...
Written originally by Marcelo Dos Santos, the script itself is genius, but the Theatre Group and their directors India Martin, Julia Brookes and Natalia Izquierdo have spun their version of the play into a darkly delightful, moving and sleek performance with just three weeks of rehearsal time.
The tragi-comedy brims over with eccentric, diverse and very real characters. Young people fresh to working life, they’re all struggling to make ends meet; all with bigger dreams for themselves; all painfully entangled and unable to escape their jobs or each other. Squeezed into a tight performance space, where the characters sit side-by-side, each with their own small desk and scarce possessions, the set perfectly epitomises the unavoidable work environment.
The directors have managed to take a script already pertinent to our time and create a production that is even more relatable to their mostly student audience. Lia, for example (Liam in the original script) is non-binary in this version — portrayed wonderfully by Eve Billington. Their being non-binary does nothing to alter the plot, but is a great representation and inclusion of gender diversity. It’s Liz that gets the most laughs: a bubbly Australian firecracker, and too careless for her own good. Brian is unknowingly obsessive and obtuse, while Rob, who is maybe a good guy (really) deep down, but is mostly a class A arsehole, reminds me a little of my first-year flatmate. There’s every kind of person here — types of people we’re all confronted with at some point or another.
‘New Labour’ presents grad life with searing honesty: there’s laughs and connection, but there’s also anxiety, disillusionment, unattainable expectations of sex, love, drink or drug taking, all bubbling over the surface of a monotonous day job. Alice’s story is one that provides both hope and disenchantment. With her boyfriend pursuing an acting dream, and a beautiful singing voice that gets her into the audition stages of the X factor, there seems to be no reason she can’t get escape the call centre. But, like the others, she falls into damaging patterns. By the end of Act One, cracks are beginning to show.
Act Two begins with the same veracity as the first half; the office Christmas party is a darkly memorable yet comedic scene. The celebrations, a leaving-do for manager Sally, manage to be anything but: unhappy timings, break ups and reunions play out in Shakespearean fashion, and absolutely no one’s minds are on Sally’s departure from the drab call centre. The acting is impeccable across the board, but Emily Raven-Baker (Sally) does an especially good job. She calls out her co-workers on their self-centred happenings with half-laughable awkwardness and half awful sadness.
The play’s ending is rather bleak: there’s no time for neat resolutions or happy endings, but rather an aptly mundane, disheartening conclusion. Yet I didn’t come away wholly dispirited: whether that was just because I felt like my life was going a fair margin more smoothly than what I had just witnessed, or whether it was just with the resounding conclusion that despite the worst, everything seems to carry on — I wasn’t entirely sure.
Words and Photos by Kate Wassell