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Theatre Review Prescient parliamentary power struggle

This House
West Yorkshire Playhouse 
Leeds/Touring

 

FIRST staged in 2012 at the National Theatre and now touring nationally, the contemporary political parallels in This House are more striking now than ever.
 

A fictionalised account of the minority Labour government of 1974-79, James Graham's play details the machinations of the power struggle with an intensity that’s only broken by moments of incisive humour.

 

Set within the insular rituals of the Commons, the mood of the outside world occasionally intrudes through a three-piece band that moves from reggae to punk via David Bowie. The cast’s disciplined choreographed moves to Stephen Warbeck’s music neatly shows how the political chaos is being superficially held together by parliamentary convention.

 

And, focusing on the Labour and Tory whips’ offices, the play highlights the deals struck with minority parties and the morally dubious tactics used to cling onto power as the government’s slender majority dwindles.

 

Strategy discussions are cleverly played out as a game of ping-pong between the parties, with the respective offices either lit or plunged into darkness — a simple but effective device that illustrates their ideological and class divide.

 

Yet, across that divide, both parties are willing to wheel out terminally ill MPs to vote and to urge rebels to put party before principle if it means there’s a chance at a power grab. There's a focus too on the casual sexism of both sides.

 

The pace and unrelenting intensity of what's a whirlwind tour of those years in 1970 can become wearing, but it's a play that forces the audience to question the political games played by today’s minority government and the long-term implications they will have for the future.

 

Tours until June 2, details: headlong.co.uk

 

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