Sunday, 23 June 2013

This House

"Let those on the continent cooperate and hug and kiss each other on the ruddy cheek. Here in Britain, one party governs and we get things done."

This House is another National Theatre Live production which I was keen to watch, having seen that it focused on a particularly turbulent era of British government which I had studied. The play looked at the political issues caused by small majorities between 1974 and 1979 where Harold Wilson and James Callaghan were Prime Ministers but only just. What made the play so appealing for me is that the action revolved around the whips office and not the main politicians of the time and as such provided an alternative angle to the events of the time. 

James Graham, the writer, chose a particularly interesting period of British history with many of the events feeling as though they had come from fiction. The Labour governments majority was so small that they relied on every one of their members attending each vote, especially when the system of pairing was revoked. This led to huge problems such as the infirm attending parliament; within the play we are shown how many politicians died and how one even faked his own death in order to escape from the stress of government. 

The staging of the play only served to enhance the experience and the fact that we were watching it on a screen did not make any difference. The most striking aspect of the staging was that some of the audience sat on stage on moving chairs which looked like the seats from the Houses of Parliament; these chairs moved to create the iconic benches facing each other which were used by the cast during the performance. During this period of history, many politicians died and knowing this, I was eager to discover how their deaths would be staged; I was really impressed with the choice to have the actors walk up through the audience into a white light. I don't know how well this worked in the theatre but it translated really well onto the screen broadcasts with the cameras following their ascent.

What surprised me most about this
play, however, was that music was integrated into the show with a band being seen on the balcony in front of Big Ben. There was stylised dancing and songs which helped to lighten the mood and was really refreshing to see, especially in a political play.

As with all National Theatre Live productions, there was a half-time feature which in this case took the guise of a half time interview with the writer, James Graham and Ann Taylor. Graham spoke of his inspiration for having written the play and the lengths that he went to in order to research the events given that he was not born during this period. Taylor was one of the featured characters in the play after having been MP for Bolton West. She worked in the Labour Whips Office during this time and so was able to offer insight into the real events, agreeing with Graham who said that he was lucky that so many extraordinary events had occurred!

Overall this was a performance which I really enjoyed and I can see why so many politicians past and present have taken the opportunity to go and see it. I would now really like to see another of his plays, especially after seeing the flair that he has for writing political plays.

Please let me know your comments below.


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