Review: This House - Drama to bring the house down

This House
This House
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ORDER! Order! Set in the Palace of Westminster, James Graham’s thought-provoking political drama offers an often hilarious and, at times, disturbing insight into the archaic machinations of British democracy.

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FESTIVAL THEATRE, Nicolson Street

Welcome to the 1970s, a time when the channel tunnel bill had yet to be passed, North Sea oil revenue was about to flow and most men were still scared of breast-feeding women.

There’s even talk of a referendum on whether or not to remain in Europe. It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Inspired by real events (the downfall of Prime Minister Ted Heath, Harold Wilson’s return, the arrival of Jim Callaghan and, ultimately, the rise of Thatcher), the action takes place in the whips’ offices, where deals are brokered to keep Labour’s minority government in power on one side, and to get them out of office on the other.

It’s a world in which Labour MPs are all stout-hearted, salt of the earth, working class types, and Conservatives are all ridiculously posh, caddish, and with a petulant air of entitlement. Caricatures that are very Yes, Minister.

With some audience members already seated on the green parliamentary benches on stage, it comes as no surprise when the cast walk down the aisles behind Black Rod - a simple but surprisingly effective entrance.

Sharp and darkly witty, the script flits back and forth between the camps as the smoke and mirrors of governing the country unfolds.

Full of passion and conviction, James Gaddas gives a tour de force turn as Labour’s Deputy Chief Whip Walter Harrison.

It’s a powerful performance that is the perfect counterpoint for Matthew Pidgeon’s foppish and effortlessly superior Jack Weatherill, Harrison’s opposite number.

Both bring a rich vein of humanity to characters drawn with the broadest of strokes.

They’re supported by a strong ensemble and an incongruous band, which adds a period rock soundtrack that really only serves to lengthen a play that, towards the end, needs pruning.

Likewise, the current trend to weave movement through dramatic pieces - the ceremony of Parliament is on occasion turned into a choreographed routine - is unnecessary.

Those artistic choices aside, however, this is a fine piece of theatre you really should elect to see while you can.

Run ends Saturday