Yesterday evening we saw a play called ‘This House’ at the Garrick Theatre: a satire, I suppose you could call it, on the activities of the ‘whips’ in the House of Commons between 1974 and 1979.
It was harsh a lot, funny a bit, and exposed the cruelty of how Labour, with a tiny majority, were forced to keep bringing the sick and injured into parliament to walk through the division lobbies because the Tories withdrew the pairing system in a cynical ploy to try to vote down the government.
I found that and other aspects of the system a travesty of democracy; and if the language was as foul and the casual violence as commonplace among real MPs, I feel disgusted by the behaviour of our honorable members.
The mostly multi-role performances were all strong and convincing, but there is inevitably a lack of dramatic tension when you already know what actually happened.
Irritatingly, every so often an MP would explain ‘in words of one syllable’ to another MP how some aspect of parliament worked, as if they didn’t know. This was obviously for the benefit of the foreigners who make up so much of West End audiences these days (unsurprisingly when tickets cost £70), but to us Brits at a theatre in our own country, it grates.
Although the play is mostly very pacy, it runs for nearly three hours, and in my opinion would benefit from some judicious cutting. For instance, a laboured metaphor about Big Ben taking a long time to repair doesn’t seem to add anything much, and could go altogether.
On the other hand, there’s a scene depicting John Stonehouse faking his own death by drowning in the sea which is so clever it merited a round of applause, but didn’t get it.
Verdict: well worth seeing if you’re an enthusiast for the inner workings of Westminster politics and like seeing famous names effing and blinding a lot; otherwise there might be better choices on offer in London.