I saw This House when it originally opened in the Cottesloe – this filmed version looks like how it was staged when, as it had been hugely successful, the play move to the Olivier and later was to go on tour. Alan Geary reviewed it for us when it went on tour and I agree with what he said so look it up in our archive. The Cottesloe production turned the theatre into the Commons chamber and by one of those strange coincidences my seat was pretty well where I sat reporting Parliament during the time the play takes place – it covers the battles between the Labour and Conservative whips during the years of the Wilson and Callaghan governments. Then I was disturbed by the fact that the actors did not resemble, let alone something sound like, the people they were playing – there was, for instance, no great turn me physically into Churchill attmpt as Gary Oldman did recently on film and other actors have also done portraying historical figures. But watching it – the play is being streamed at 7pm on National Theatre Live – for a second time with a few more years distance that ceased to matter.
This is a fine filmed version of the play which captures the immediacy conjured up in the theatre. Much of what happened is long forgotten – rebel Audrey Wise is the tiniest of footnotes as is John Stonehouse and who remembers the Lib Lab pact? A lot flashes by without much explanation, but the battle is brilliantly fought and shows just what a bear pit Westminster could be. The bribe of a better office, a bigger desk, an amenable companion if you had to share an office was still true until Lockdown changed things perhaps for ever.
The performances are powerful it is well directed as both play and film. Do look up Geary for the rest. It will provide you with almost three hours of compulsive, illuminating viewing of an age when parliament was full of colourful and substantial men and women with experience of the outside world of work. Things have indeed changed.
Directed by Jeremy Herren
Photograph: Johan Persson.