Matthew Steeples extols the relevance of the Donmar Warehouse’s ‘Limehouse’ to Britain’s contemporary political climate
At a time when Brexit has divided Britain and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour continues to provide little-to-no opposition to Theresa May’s somewhat unfocused, unelected government, the relevance of a play named Limehouse is especially poignant.
Based around the formation of the ill-fated Social Democratic Party by the ‘Gang of Four’ – Bill Rodgers, Shirley Williams, Roy Jenkins and David Owen – in 1981, what The Telegraph calls a “domestic sitcom” takes place entirely in a “bourgeois” kitchen. It occurs during a period when moderates – driven to try to find an alternative to the rise of Thatcherism on one side and the loony left on the other – despaired at a nation divided and sought out a new way forward. Limehouse – named after the area where Owen lived at the time – effectively examines what this quartet believed the UK needed then and what many believe the UK again needs today: A credible centrist party.
Played out as a kitchen table coup by four ultimately flawed politicians over two bottles of Château Lafite, the plot is cleverly guided by a fifth member, the American born literary agent wife of David Owen. She concludes the play by asking: “What if?” in the context of what might have happened had a sensible centrist political movement been successful back in the 1980s. It’s the very question that will be on the lips of so many as we head towards Theresa May triggering Article 50 on the 29th March.