Review: This House, The Lyceum: Performance masterclass

David Hounslow in This House
David Hounslow in This House

The government is in turmoil. Political shenanigans are at an all-time high. Can the ruling party survive? Sounds familiar?

But this is not a 21st century post Brexit apocalypse. Just an everyday story of Westminster in the 1970s.

And this National Theatre and Chichester production is theatrical gold and a masterclass of performance and practice.

It is the era of a hung parliament then slender majority when whips move heaven and earth to make sure MPs vote to save their parties.

But as well as the tension of the story itself writer James Graham plunders the back catalogue of parliamentary folklore ranging from to the riotous to the ridiculous.

Here are the big political titans of the day: John Stonehouse, Michael Heseltine, Airey Neave, Alan Clark et al.

But it is the manipulating and manoeuvring of whips Bob Mellish, Walter Harrison and Humphrey Atkins who provide such an enthralling narrative thread.

With a cast of 19 playing a multiplicity of roles and four musicians providing a contemporary musical context This House grabs attention from the opening minute then keeps up the tension to the iron lady’s fateful ‘Where There is’ victory speech at the end.

As ex-Sheffield MP Nick Clegg wryly observes in a programme note, the play’s dilemma laid bare is the balance between principle and practice, idealism and reality.

And he knows that more than most. But This House is set in the 1970s. It’s not like that now. Is it?

* Alan Powell