This House at Garrick Theatre

  • Theatre
This House at Garrick Theatre


Fri, 09/12/2016 - 13:25


Nathaniel Parker in This House photo: Johan Persson
Nathaniel Parker in This House. PHOTO: JOHAN PERSSON
08 December, 2016

THIS House is the House of Commons and James Graham’s play opens with a chorus of MPs trying to attract the Speaker’s attention before being silenced by his call of “Order! Order!” It is 1974 and the Tories are moving out the government Whips’ Office to make way for Labour, which doesn’t have an outright majority. MPs have to vote in person, and the play follows the whips’ struggle to get every last man and woman through the lobby to vote and negotiate the pairing of those who have to absent with their opponents.

It is a fictional version, though closely based on fact, featuring (mainly) real people. We may know the outcome, but it is grippingly suspenseful and very funny. Phil Daniels plays Labour Chief Whip Bob Mellish, Kevin Doyle his successor Michael Cocks and Steffan Rhodri superb as their deputy ,Walter Harrison. They are a trio of regional working class accents in contrast to the smooth Tory team of Humphrey Atkins and Jack Weatherill, played with patrician authority by Malcolm Sinclair and smug politeness by Nathaniel Parker. 

Trying to do deals with cross benchers, dragging in the sick and the dying (a dedicated socialist touchingly played by Christopher Godwin), it can be moving and hilarious. The breakdown of Big Ben, its clockface prominent above the green benches of Rae Smith’s set, parallels the problems in Parliament. 

An ensemble cast each plays several MPs and other roles, the Speaker announcing their constituency as they enter. They include Orlando Wells’ John Stonehouse, who fakes his own death, Matthew Pidgeon’s Michael Heseltine creating pandemonium by grabbing the Mace, Sarah Woodward as an MP who sticks to her principles and votes against instructions and Lauren O’Neil as feisty Ann Taylor entering the male world of the Labour whips.

Jeremy Herrin’s fast-moving production makes adept use of song from David Bowie to Holt’s Jupiter, and even breaks into dance, as it follows events until Margaret Thatcher moves into No 10 and the Chief Whips again swap their offices. A highpoint is when, after the pairing system has broken down, Weatherill makes a magnanimous gesture that could cost of his own career and Labour’s Harrison responds equally honourably. Along with the mayhem it is a picture of a parliament when not everyone was a career politician.

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