‘This House’ tells the story of the 1974 – 79 Labour minority government, through the offices of both the Government and the Opposition whips. This era of politics feels more and more prescient by the day, a hung parliament relying on smaller parties, a vote on our membership of the European Union, a Parliamentary building in decay, and strikes across the nation. At its best, this play is a brilliant, funny, emotionally charged survey of our political system that had me completely on side, at its worst, I felt irritated and left out of the joke.
The first act mostly left me cold, I felt it relied on cartoonish characterisation, wigs, and although the jargon had to be made clear somehow, a lot of explanation. Maybe some of my discomfort came from the places the audience was finding the laughs, or maybe they were finding them where the production was leading, but it tended to be at stereotypes or at things I didn’t find particularly funny (such as mentioning areas of Birmingham, the sexism of the time or Welsh people having a Welsh accent.) I don’t think my problems came from the text, which is witty by itself, but rather with the production which tended on the side of reductive comedy.
The second act almost felt like a different play. A scene in which the struggling Labour whips needed to get every sitting MP across the lobby to vote left me on the verge of cheers, swept completely up in the ridiculous (but true) events. One of the final scenes, a confrontation between the Labour and Tory deputy whips (played with great tenderness by James Gaddas and Matthew Pidgeon respectively) that questioned the inherent fragility and frailty of our democracy felt like the scene the whole play was leading up to and, for me, it was worth it. Mention must also go to Natalie Grady for playing Ann Taylor (Labour, but the only woman in either Whips office) who grew increasingly ruthless throughout the play, which was wonderful to watch.