U.K. Review: "This House" at the Edinburgh's Festival Theatre

Lewis Baird

Politics. Yes I know! We are all fed up with politics right now. However, the national theatre is currently on tour with a political play based on the rise and fall of labour during the hung parliament in the 1970s. This House, written by James Graham, premiered at the national theatre in 2012 and weirdly enough, this play seems so much more relevant now than 6 years ago.

This play is based on the true events of Labour and Conservative party whips within Westminster from 1974 to 1979. However, the events have been changed for dramatic purposes. This play follows the high pressured lifestyle of these members of parliament, as they try to keep their parties afloat during a hung parliament, sound familiar?

When I entered Edinburgh's Festival Theatre, I was pretty amazed at the stage scenery. Purely because the lower level of the set, impressively looked like the inside of Westminster parliament. This is because Rae Smith, the designer for this production, cleverly put 5 small rows of green seats up stage left and the same up stage right. And who fills these seats you ask? Some lucky members of the audience. It is an ingenious illusion to create the busy atmosphere of parliament while also a creative positioning of the audience. Centre stage left has the opposition whip's office and centre stage right has the government whip's office. The second level of the set acts as the inside of Big Ben and also where the band plays, and yes, there is live music in this play. That is not the only clever inclusion within this production.

Jeremy Herrin and Johnathan O'Boyle direct this 70s based play. Rather than this being a typical play which is purely heavy on dialogue, the directors use some brilliant traits of theatre to make this production fresh, three dimensional and very enjoyable. For instance they include some staggering visual moments through physical theatre, choreographed by Scott Ambler. Plus not only just music by Stephen Warbeck playing as a soundtrack, but at one point the entire cast sing acapella which was simply stunning. James Graham's writing is at points so naturalistic and yet at other points it flips into exaggerated moments, Herrin and O'Boyle have managed to guide the cast in hitting the perfect tone for the context. And I must say this play has the most perfect balance of scenes with hilarious comedy and scenes with serious drama within it. It was a perfect balance, especially for the kind of play it is.

The cast of This House_credit Johan Persson.jpg

The cast are obviously the main ingredient that drives this play to be a success. For me I was not expecting to feel any connection to the characters in this play however, I could not have been more wrong. The Labour whips (Martin Marquez as Bob Mellish, James Gaddas as Walter Harrison, Tony Turner as Michael Cocks, David Hounslow as Joe Harper, and Natalie Grady as Ann Taylor) showcased some side splitting comedy in act one and more serious toned anarchy in act two. There was also a very accurate portrayal as what the public would perceive stereotypical Labour party members.

And the Tory MPs (William Chubb as Humphrey Atkins, Matthew Pidgeon as Jack Weatherill and Giles Cooper as Fred Silvester) were definitely written to be perceived as typical middle class w***ers, which definitely played well in the role of comedy. As there was less of a serious storyline structure with them and they featured more in the comic scenes apart from Matthew Pidgeton, he features within more serious scenes. Oh and would like to add. William Chubb has a brilliant voice which weirdly sounded like John Cleese at points, it added to the comedy for me.

The ensemble (Geoffrey Lumb, Ian Barritt, Nicholas Lumley, Harry Kershaw, Miles Richardson, Stephen Critchlow, Orlando Wells, Louise Ludgate, Ian Houghton, Marcus Hutton and Charlotte Worthing) work brilliantly together to help the two teams of whips create a parliament atmosphere and overall add to the authenticity of this production.

This production caught me off guard, I went in with an open mind to the theatre this evening, however, I had a niggling feeling that I was not going to enjoy This House as I think like everyone in the UK, I have had enough of politics. However, this energetic, unique and highly enjoyable production raises current topics such as hung parliament, independence, Brexit (sigh) and breast feeding in public, something for everyone. I really enjoyed this production and could not fault it, I rate it 5/5 stars.

***** This House - OnStageBlog.