I booked to see This House in a state of something like apprehension. I’m not normally fascinated by politics, but the play, written by James Graham, has enjoyed great success, first at the National and then at the Garrick Theatre.
I must admit that the prospect of sitting in one of the stage seats clinched it for me. These seats take the form of Commons benches around the back of the stage, and offer a good view, even if the action is occasionally obscured. Another benefit is being able to walk to your seat via the backstage area, and there is an onstage bar which audience members can use in the interval.
And so to the play itself. It covers the years before Thatcher became Prime Minister, though the lady herself is only referred to as her constituency, Finchley. Actually, this is true for a number of other characters as well, and this is a play with plenty of them. I can’t remember the last time I saw a play with such a large cast, and they are all excellent, particularly Nathaniel Parker and Steffan Rhodri as opposing whips Jack Weatherill and Walter Harrison.
Beginning with the 1974 hung parliament that saw Labour hold a tenuous power, the play mainly focuses on the whips of both main parties and their ups and downs over the next five years. It all sounds rather dry, but I was pleasantly surprised. Initially stereotypical, with the gruff Yorkshireman and plain speaking Cockney on the Labour side and the upper class toffs on the Tory side, over the course of the play the characters become more rounded and learn to respect one another. While I found it hard to pick out all the individual MPs and story threads, the main sense of the story was easy to follow, and the events of the play – dramatic by any standards – held my interest.
If the thought of a play about the House of Commons puts you off, please don’t let it. This House is engrossing, moving and surprisingly funny.