Theatre Review: THIS HOUSE – The Lowry, Salford

The Cast of THIS HOUSE by James Graham

The Cast of THIS HOUSE by James Graham. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Intelligent, enthralling and bitingly funny, THIS HOUSE is a timely, moving and amusing insight into the workings of British politics

Considering the current political climate, you’d be forgiven for thinking James Graham’s critically-acclaimed play THIS HOUSE is set just a few years ago. In fact, we’re back in 1974 as the corridors of Westminster ring with the sound of infighting and backbiting as Britain’s political parties battle it out to change the future of the nation.

Inspired by real political events which took place during 1974-79, THIS HOUSE focuses on Harold Wilson’s Labour Party who are struggling to hold onto power after winning by just four seats. A hung parliament is clogging up the wheels of Westminster and another election is imminent. As fist fights break out in the parliamentary bars, high-stake games are played and sick and dying MPs are carried through the lobby to register their votes, her Majesty’s Government hangs by a thread and whether it will stand or fall, depends on the strength of the party whips.

Intelligent, enthralling and bitingly funny, THIS HOUSE is a timely, moving and amusing insight into the workings of British politics. Wisely sidestepping key players like the Prime Minister, Graham’s play shines the spotlight on the engine room – the whip offices – where plans are forged, deals are struck and promises are made. Here, Graham’s bitingly witty script highlights the laugh-out-loud absurdity of the political world, which still appears to lie in the convoluted, peculiar and antiquated traditions and rituals that govern the day-to-day workings of the Commons.

THIS HOUSE by James Graham.

THIS HOUSE by James Graham. Photo Credit: Johan Persson

Romping along at a sprightly pace, Jeremy Herrin and Jonathan O’Boyle’s innovative direction is full of verve and purpose as short charged exchanges are blended with choreographed interludes set to a background of live music. Rae Smith’s wood-panelled set transforms The Lowry’s Lyric Theatre into the House of Commons Chamber, with a broken Big Ben looming over the proceedings in the background, its clock stuck in need of repair.

The play is served well by a strong cast of 19 playing multiple roles. Martin Marquez and James Gaddish stand out as the ‘men of the people’ labour whips Bob Mellish and Walter Harrison, while William Chubb and Matthew Pidgeon boast the dry wit and upper-class sensibilities you expect from the Tories. Natalie Grady also stands out for her performance as Ann Taylor, the woman MP trying to find her way in a male-dominated world, as does Louise Ludgate as headstrong Labour MP Audrey Wise.

James Gaddis as Walter Harrison and Matthew Pidgeon and Jack Weatherill in THIS HOUSE

James Gaddis (Walter Harrison) and Matthew Pidgeon (Jack Weatherill) in THIS HOUSE. Photo: Johan Persson

Yet, the large cast of characters (over 50 MPs appear or are referred to in the play) makes it difficult at times to differentiate who each person is – even with the announcement by the Speaker of the House. As the drama increases, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep up with who is now on whose side.

The satirical nature of Graham’s play also means the text verges on the farcical at times, as ageing politicians are wheeled from their death-beds – oxygen tanks in tow – to cast their crucial vote. Whilst this is certainly entertaining, it’s hard for the audience to get a sense of the characters and their principles beyond what is immediately superficial.

That said, these are minor issues and on the whole, this is a brilliant piece of theatre about a remarkable time in British politics and a sobering testament to the fact that nothing ever really changes. With its superb writing, energised acting and superb direction, THIS HOUSE is sure to win your vote.

4 out of 5 stars

THIS HOUSE runs at The Lowry, Salford until 28 April 2018.