Tired of political wheeler-dealing? Sick of fake news, parliamentary backstabbing and explanations of conduct that would stretch the credulity of a particularly credulous credulous person? Welcome to the House of Commons, circa the mid-’70s. The latest show to screen as part of the National Theatre at Home series, James Graham’s ‘This House’ is a thumping slab of backroom political machinations, charting the struggles of the Labour government between the hung parliament of 1974 and the Tory election victory of Thatcher in 1979. It’s got big hair, big flares and a lot of questionable three-piece pinstripe suits, but it carries a message for the ages: if you want to preserve a true democracy, how on earth can you stop people just acting in their own self-interest?
Graham, whose 2017 Fleet Street drama ‘Ink’ got the big five stars from us, is a playwright who has always been fascinated with the process of government and the contradictions inherent in the British establishment. ‘This House’ focuses on a particularly rocky political period and especially the role that party whips play in getting MPs to put up and shut up. It has a great ensemble cast, too, with Philip Glenister, Vincent Franklin and Andrew Frame as working-class Labour whips, and Julian Wadham, Charles Edwards and Ed Hughes as their Tory counterparts.
Sadly, like a politician who has ‘no recollection’ of some heinous incident, we can’t find Time Out’s review of the 2012 NT production right now. But when ‘This House’ transferred to the West End in 2016 with a slightly different cast, it enjoyed our complete support:
‘It humanises politics and politicians at a time when it seems fashionable to deride them. And for all the apparent dryness of its subject, the play is rich in humour and sentiment.’ That production preserved much of the National Theatre’s original staging, including the great wheeze of having some of the audience sitting on stage on replica Commons leather benches.
We summed up our five-star review thus: ‘There may be much to bemoan in our current politics, but “This House” is a reminder of the forces underlying it. It brilliantly shows that, though fashions and technologies change, human frailties across the political spectrum will always remain. Graham has captured an enduring dilemma of politics: the tension between principle and practice.’
Depending on your tastes, this might be the perfect antidote to the last week, or coals to Newcastle. If you do decide to check it out, though, be assured that unlike certain other recent political semi-fictions, it’s well written, has at least some internal logic and doesn’t treat its audience like total idiots.
‘This House’ streams at 7pm BST tonight on the National Theatre’s YouTube channel for free. It’s available for one week.
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