Weaving Politics and Passion in ‘Love in Idleness’ and ‘Limehouse’

Politics are central to “Limehouse,” Steve Waters’s punchy new play about the origins of the Social Democratic Party, started in Britain in 1981 by four Labour Party defectors who became known as the Gang of Four. Although their initiative eventually flamed out, the four are viewed as emblems of a time rife with possibility, when principle took center-stage — and when a genuine opposition party seemed viable to a degree that doesn’t always appear to be the case today. The play, vibrantly directed by Polly Findlay, is at the Donmar Warehouse through April 15.

Mr. Waters was last represented at the Donmar in 2015 with “Temple,” which told the story of the Occupy London movement from an unusual vantage point inside the Chapter House of St. Paul’s Cathedral while social tumult raged on the steps outside. “Limehouse” focuses on another inner sanctum — the kitchen of the onetime Labour foreign secretary, David Owen (a blustery Tom Goodman-Hill), and his American wife, Debbie (Nathalie Armin) — from where decisions are made that will affect the citizenry at large.

“Limehouse” takes its title from the London quarter that is mostly fantastically trendy nowadays but that, back then, represented an adventuresome journey for the Owens’ intrepid guests. “Very far east,” notes Bill Rodgers (the sweet-faced Paul Chahidi), the senior politico who accompanies his mock-triumphant arrival by producing some “whiffy” — there’s a British adjective for you! — Camembert.


From left: Paul Chahidi, Roger Allam, Debra Gillett and Tom Goodman-Hill in “Limehouse.”

Jack Sain

Billed as a “fictionalized account of real events,” the play comes with an epilogue, spoken with the house lights up by Ms. Armin, whose character’s status as neither British nor…

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