A humorous and engaging take on 1970s politics.
You could be forgiven, seeing the glossy representation of parliament offices onstage, for thinking that you’re in for a two hour and fifty minute, dull as dishwater exposé on the 1974 government. But as the lights fade to an eerie green and a band of punk-haired rockers take to the stage, it is clear this will be so much more than a history lesson.
This House is a comic, distinctive look at Labour’s attempt to keep power for its full five-year term with a tiny, sometimes non-existent majority, and a plethora of pitfalls and failures. You don’t need to be a politics buff to understand what’s going on. Playwright James Graham portrays the thrust and parry of house struggles without getting bogged down in the minutiae of policy – other than a few wise cracks about the lights going out, of course.
This is a production that plays on humorous stereotypes whilst delivering full, original characterisations. There’s a definite plummy edge to the Tories (or ‘Aristotwats’, according to their enemies), whilst the Labour gang are tough, rough and fierce. The Welsh make a brief appearance as chain-smoking, artsy types, and there are some terrifically awful hairdos on the Scottish side. Amusing 70s cuts are pretty prevalent all round, actually.
But in amongst the catcalling, scheming and occasional violence, moments of emotional maturity arise. Particularly compelling is the respect between opposing whips Weatherill and Harrison (Matthew Pidgeon and James Gaddas), who display understanding for each others’ positions, even if they rarely agree.
The production is blessed with a stellar cast that does justice to the writing. William Chubb is especially good, portraying Humphrey Atkins as a man who fights frustration with forced calm, dipping occasionally into resigned despair. Meanwhile, Martin Marquez is an engaging presence as Bob Mellish – driven, authoritative and armed with a volley of swear words. As for the rest of the cast, there is barely a weak link amongst them, and they take on the impressive range of characters with copious versatility.
Don’t be fooled by the subject matter. This House is funny, bold and engaging – one of those rare beasts that makes politics not only clear, but hugely entertaining too.
Words: Molly Pipe
Photo: Johan Persson