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This House, National Theatre

everything theatre originally reviewed this production in the Cottesloe Theatre at the National. It will transfer into the Olivier Theatre at the National on 23rd February 2013, where it is currently booking until 15th May 2013: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/this-house

James Graham
Directed by Jeremy Herrin

Pros: A cracking script, scintillating performances, and a great overall concept.

Cons: Few and far between, but I didn’t think some of the musical interludes were fitting.

Our Verdict: A brilliant piece of new writing, and a high quality production. Close to being a must see.

Courtesy of Johan Persson for The Guardian

The last few weeks haven’t been the best in the National’s illustrious history. Scenes from an Execution was middle-of-the-road, and Damned by Despair has received a light critical panning. All in all, the last two National shows I’ve seen have been nothing to write home about, which is disappointing. So the pressure was on for them to produce something good in this season. Something really good in fact. And fortunately, the Cottesloe production of James Graham’s This House delivers, and delivers in superb style.

Anyone on my wavelength will be sick of all three of the UK’s abysmal main political parties. In addition, the last political drama I saw was Yes, Prime Minister, which I left feeling disappointed. The perceptive amongst you will have noticed a distinct tone emerging here; I’m disappointed. With so many things. After 2 hours and 45 minutes in the Cottesloe however, I came out with my belief in both the National and in Britain’s age-old political system restored (slightly!). And this was despite the fact that my view was restricted, despite the fact that parts of the play showed the worst, most inhumane and brutal side of politics, and despite the fact that the production ends with the voice of the Iron Lady promising hope and prosperity.

The strength of this production is James Graham’s truly remarkable script. The plot is based on the true events that took place during the years leading up to the 1979 General Election which brought Margaret Thatcher to power. It’s not a story that I, as a 1980s baby, remember, but a quick check on the gospel that is Wikipedia verifies its historical accuracy. Graham’s stroke of genius is that the story is told through the eyes of the Whips from both the Labour and the Conservative parties during this time. These are the true conversations that we all like to believe actually happen in the corridors of power behind closed doors: obnoxious politicians sneering in private at the electorate; desperate actions putting the party before the country; the ruthless sacrifice of basic human decency (and even the health of their MPs!) by the Whips in order to gain the reins of power. Bizarrely though (and this may just be me), it wasn’t these conversations that stayed with me as I walked out.

Graham’s script is laugh-out-loud funny. There are some cracking one-liners in there about class conflict and about Britain’s odd political traditions, and some brilliant examples of the hilarious school-yard banter between politicians on opposing sides. More than that though, the story of the two key characters, the Deputy Chief Whips on either side to be specific, actually brings the virtues of good old-fashioned British honour and decency to the fore at the most critical moment in the play. And that one act of rarely seen decency and compassion is enough to give you a hint of a warm fuzzy feeling, such is the intelligence of Graham’s writing to set the bar so low for 90% of the play, that the last 10% seems far more special.

Graham’s script is delivered by brilliantly sharp performances across the board and first-class direction from Jeremy Herrin. It also includes an excellent design from Rae Smith, which allows the audience to walk in to a remarkably realistic House of Commons, complete with green benches and a Mace. Stand out performances for me came from the two Deputy Chief Whips, Tory Jack Weatherill played by the brilliant Charles Edwards, and Labourite Walter Harrison played by Philip Glenister. Their excellence stemmed from the fact that their performances were realistically human and deeply believable, both essential attributes for delivering these complex roles. That being said, there was not a weak link in the cast; every performance was honed and excellent.

Was it ground-breaking enough to merit the fifth star? Not quite. It’s a truly excellent script and it’s a brilliant production though. My only small complaint was some of the slightly out-of-place musical interludes, when a production firmly grounded in the 1970s suddenly jumped forward into the space age with rather upbeat music and dancing. A minor point, but a negative nonetheless.

All in all though, this was a welcome return to form for the National. Highly recommended from us!

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

This House runs at the National Theatre until 1st December 2012. It will also transfer into the Olivier auditorium of the National from 23rd February 2013.
Box Office: 020 7452 3000 or book online at http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/this-house

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