THIS HOUSE: James Graham.
Theatre Royal: Tkts 0115 989 5555 www.royalcentre-nottingham.co.uk.
Runs: 2h 50m: one interval: till 14th April.
Performance times: 7.30pm, (Matinees 2.00pm Weds and 2.30pm Sat).
Review: Alan Geary: 10th April 2018.
A brilliant production.
This House is about the hung Parliament of 1974-1979, the Wilson/Callaghan years when Labour ran a minority government. The frantic story is told mainly from the perspectives of the two main whips’ offices. But a marvellous set design allows for easy scene shifts from these to the House of Commons chamber, the riverside terrace, the bars, the cellars and so on.
We’re even taken inside the Big Ben clock, which, symbolic of the parliamentary system itself, is suffering from advanced old age.
Actors and audience alike have a lot of fun with regional accents – we get three from Scotland alone. Class differences between Labour and Conservative MPs, more marked then than now, are clear. We have self-confessed “Cockney geezer”, Labour Chief Whip Bob Mellish (Martin Marquez in the outstanding performance of the evening), chomping his fish and chips out of the paper. And old school patrician Humphrey Atkin (William Chubb in another fine performance) as his Conservative opposite number.
In an evening of all-round excellence Harry Kershaw, taking one of a lot of roles – most actors play multiple parts – camps it up as fellow Tory, Norman St John Stevas. It’s clear that the main parties are all coalitions of barely compatible interest.
There are moments of pathos, with conflicting loyalties, and personal respect across party lines. But the humour sparkles. The member for Reddith, traditionally a needle manufacturing centre, who was really after a cosy rural constituency is told that he can’t now see the haystacks for the needles.
Much less successful is the, no doubt excellent, live rock music played at one end of the public gallery. It adds an irrelevant and intrusive layer to an already complex affair.
Another perhaps unavoidable problem is that playwright James Graham’s sharp dialogue and scene changing, are often so quick-fire it’s sometimes hard to follow. And for anyone with scant memory of British politics in the seventies – there’s a bit on the John Stonehouse affair for instance – the difficulty is compounded.
But all that said, this is a brilliant production.
Bob Mellish: Martin Marquez.
Walter Harrison: James Gaddas.
Michael Cocks: Tony Turner.
Joe Harper: David Hounslow.
Ann Taylor: Natalie Grady.
Humphrey Atkins: William Chubb.
Jack Weatherill: Matthew Pidgeon.
Fred Silvester: Giles Cooper.
THE MEMBERS’ CHORUS
Geoffrey Lumb, Ian Barritt, Nicholas Lumley, Harry Kershaw, Miles Richardson, Stephen Critchlow, Orlando Wells and Louise Ludgate.
Director: Jeremy Herrin and Jonathan O’Boyle..
Designer: Rae Smith.
Lighting Designer: Paula Constable.
Sound Designer: Ian Dickinson.