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Last night's review
You think the state of British politics is bad now, then you didn’t live through the seventies.
Those of us who did and are old enough to recall the Labour – and for a short period Lib-Lab Pact – government of 1974-79 will know that despite the challenges faced by today’s political class, life in the Commons is near as damn it tame.
This was truly the age of the Big Beast – of Wilson, Callaghan and Thatcher, of Heseltine, Clark and Neave. When the Mace was swung and sick and dying MPs were wheeled through the lobby to register their precious vote.
Playwright James Graham spent years researching this examination of the role of the Tory and Labour whips offices during those years when political power became a life and death struggle, literally for some of those involved. Speaking to many of the players in the game, he has crafted a sublimely comical, worryingly accurate portrayal of the death-throws of an old political establishment and the birth of modern politics as we know the Commons today.
As the whips circle each other, Labour to maintain power, Tories to see them ousted, we watch as the niceties of age-old political bartering between parties disintegrates into bare-knuckle pit fighting.
Phil Daniels plays Labour Chief Whip Bob Mellish, a cockney wide boy always up for the fight. Comic timing superb, his sparring with his Tory opposite number Humphrey Atkins, played by Malcolm Sinclair, sets the tone for the coming confrontation.
When Mellish leaves the scene, his replacement, the more subtle but all the same determined Michael Cocks, played by Kevin Doyle, rises to the challenge as fists begin to fly as much as words.
But it is the relationship between the two deputy party whips, Steffan Rhodri as Walter Harrison, Nathaniel Parker as Jack Weathererill, as the two men who understand that compromises must be secured, that is the most interesting. If amid the acrimony and bitter animosity of the two tribes reason is to be found then these two must seek it out.
There are glorious cameos from many of the cast as some of the most famous names of the time weave into the action: Michael Heseltine, Alan Clark, Ann Taylor, Airey Neave to name just a few. For the audience old enough to remember, it is a fascinating game of who-are-you?
To house the honourable members of This House, the Minerva Theatre has been adapted with a brilliant set to mimic the Commons with some of the audience sat on the famous green benches.
Special mention for the punk band belting out suitably seventies hits – including a Bowie number from Daniels – for adding a raucous rebellious background tone.
This House was first performed just four years ago yet already British politics has changed yet again. The seventies seem a distant era today, but this wonderful production reminds us just how far we have travelled.
Runs until October 29 and then transfers to Garrick Theatre, London from November 19.
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