REVIEW: This House by James Graham at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre

This House at the Minerva

by JAMES GRAHAM

Minerva Theatre
23 September  29 October PPP-160930-105120001
This House at the Minerva by JAMES GRAHAM Minerva Theatre 23 September  29 October PPP-160930-105120001

The political shenanigans of the summer may have given the impression that parliamentary turbulence was a new concept.

But This House rudely reminds everyone of a certain age - and informs those who are younger - that brutal divides in the House of Commons are as old as democracy itself.

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This play revisits the roller-coaster parliamentary session of 1974-79 - charting the industrial and social unrest of Britain and the consequential rise of the Honourable Member for Finchley, aka Margaret Thatcher.

Labour held power but by such a fine thread its time was spent in endless negotiation with the ‘odds and sods’ - smaller political groups - to hang on to the keys of 10 Downing Street.

Inevitably in such a febrile atmosphere, the glue in the machine was the whips’ office - a dark and uncompromising arena where deals where made and favours called in, in the shadows of the archives room or the clock tower.

And this glimpse of parliamentary light is shed from that source.

The chain cigarette smoking, the coarse language, the long nights and the winner-take-all agenda are captured perfectly - as whips from Labour and Tories do battle.

A real-life House of Cards?

Not quite. No murders here although a touch of fraud and a large helping of self-preservation.

There is humanity too. Difficult to discern at first in the dim light of the darkened corridors but increasingly strong and pure and ultimately redeeming of parliament itself.

The set, recreating the Commons’ chamber in the Minerva, is a spectacular piece of investment - as is the cast, so strong in number and experience that you forget at times this is a recreation.

Nathaniel Parker is every bit the Tory toff. And then surprises too. Kevin Doyle develops his working class persona from Downton Abbey

to rise to top job among Labour whips. At a personal cost.

A live band capturing the mood of the 70s punkish music is a wild card in this almost house of cards.

The strong language may offend a few; the lighting of so many cigarettes may have artistic justification but is an unnecessary distraction. Some of the racist chatter of the 70s has been expunged and so should this.

As much a chapter of political history as a dramatic entertainment, This House reminds us that there’s nothing new in politics - nor in human nature.

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