By James Graham
It’s no surprise that This House sold out runs in the National Theatre and West End. The immense energy of the piece alone is enough to keep you gripped. Let alone the razor-sharp wit, political insight, and absolute madness of British politics from 1974 to 1979.
Beginning with the hung parliament of 1974, the play leads us through the subsequent years of the Labour government struggling to keep hold of their majority, and the Tories ceaseless attempts to crush it. From fist-fights in the house to the underhand tactics of the opposition, This House isn’t so much a ‘storm in a teacup’ as it is an all-consuming hurricane of biting, reasoned, and somehow understandable party politics.
The fact the programme has a glossary might make you nervous for an onslaught of political jargon. But the production is a riot, with hard laughs at every turn. It’s so deftly handled by the writer and cast that no Westminster nuance falls out of our grasp. Even the most regrettable and brutal tactics are caught, or cracked open wide, revealing a possibly unexpected vignette of British politics. Though maybe it won’t be so surprising. In fact, many may find This House chimes in with the increasingly alienating parliament of today, with nods to EU referendums, inter-party conflict, and clear-cut class issues.
The relentlessness of This House will have you fixated on its wit, intelligence, and brutality. And as exhausted as every representative in the House as they rage against the insufferable workings of their parliamentary machine: The weird traditions of Westminster. A punch-up in the benches. ‘Somme tactics.’ But the overwhelming is part of the experience, and as an audience, we find ourselves utterly swept up by the intoxicating chaos of it all.
Though each and every character huddled in the chambers is fine-tuned and hard-hitting, there is not one performance that can stand out above the rest. The indomitable cast rebound off each other with such intensity and grit that you have to be consumed by the whole beast, rather than any individual. And consumed you will be.
An examination of the archaic traditions of Westminster, and what happens when principle and politics threaten to separate, the clever and hilarious This House is a gritty, relevant, and often moving production. Effortlessly engrossing, and not to be missed.
This House will be playing at the Birmingham REP Theatre from 17th – 21st April.