REVIEW: THIS HOUSE (Garrick Theatre) ★★★★★

this-house

Is a political revolution coming? Will the Labour party collapse? Can the kingdom stay united? THIS HOUSE gets a timely and long-awaited revival at the Garrick Theatre.

THIS HOUSE premiered at the National Theatre in 2012 and played two sell-out runs to critical acclaim. The play, written by James Graham, in response to the Conservative coalition with the Liberal Democrats, ran at Chichester Festival Theatre before coming to the West End. Graham has embraced the theatre of politics, also writing THE VOTE and PRIVACY. This production is directed by Headlong Artistic Director Jeremy Herrin who also directed People, Places and Things and Wolf Hall.

The action takes place in the Houses of Parliament between the general election in February 1974 and the vote of no confidence in the government of James Callaghan in 1979. The play is set mainly in the offices of the Labour and Conservative Chief Whips, where the day to day world of politics takes place in our peculiar political system.

The whips are the stars of the show; the party leaders remain offstage. The story follows the relationships between the rival party whips, the backbenchers and members of the minor parties who need to be convinced and cajoled to side with one or other of the main parties.
While the play is based on real events and presents real MPs, it is a fictional account of a turbulent period in British politics and the role of the whips in influencing their MPs to toe the party line. The conversations are imagined yet they feel convincing as we follow the highs and lows of life in Parliament when the ruling party has a tiny majority and one missing MP can be the difference between winning or losing a vote. Taking seemingly dry subject matter, Graham has created a play that is in turn funny and touching as personal and party loyalties are tried.

The large cast work well together to create the busy world of the House of Commons in an era when MPs smoked and drank and swore at work and women were few and far between. Characters are introduced by their constituency rather than by name by the ever present Speaker of the House in his wig and gown.

The large set is backed by a huge clock face and live musicians sit on a high platform. Some audience members sit on stage in the place of backbenchers. Music is well used and the movement choreographed by Scott Ambler adds an element of theatre to this political play.
THIS HOUSE strikes a relevant chord. There’s a referendum on membership of the European Union, divided parties, rebellious backbenchers and the question of whether our political system is still fit for purpose. Graham’s play shines a light on some very current issues by presenting us with our past.

Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans

THIS HOUSE plays at the Garrick Theatre until 25 February 2017. Get tickets