REVIEW: This House, Minerva Theatre, Chichester
On the face of it, this is a show about politics.
You can’t get away from it - from the moment you walk into the Minerva Theatre and realise the entire space has been transformed into the House of Commons it is pretty obvious what lies ahead.
But for someone who is not usually a fan of political dramedies, I found this very enjoyable – and laugh-out-loud funny.
The reason for this lies in the fact, like the protagonist Walter Harrison says of his job as a Labour whip, it is really all about people. In fact, he talked about people so often in that particular speech that I thought he was going to launch into a Barbra Streisand medley.
Nonetheless, he is right. All walks of life are seen centre stage in the Commons, and it is the culture clashes that ensue which is the well of this show’s comedy and pathos.
The play tells a fictionalised version of the parliament of 1974 to 1979, which sees an embattled Labour government clinging to power with a tiny majority – and the party’s whips are the only thing stopping it from self-destructing or being ousted by the Conservatives.
By focusing on the whips on both sides, it is a refreshing take on an otherwise well-dramatised period of history – made more so by keeping the rise of Margaret Thatcher to the periphery.
As Walter and his Conservative ‘frenemy’ and counterpart Jack Weatherill, Steffan Rhodri of Gavin and Stacey fame and Nathaniel Parker prove they are not just television veterans, showing a knack for comic timing that is shared among the cast. You know you’re in good company when Tony award nominee Sarah Woodward is playing several minor supporting roles – each very different and equally well-rounded.
In the first half, which was more farcical, the pace was so slick you blinked and it was the interval.
The second half didn’t capture the attention quite as much, which was because the plot became a little repetitive – another vote, another scheme for Labour to win – but some tender moments shared between characters stretched the actors’ emotional range.
The live music which punctuated the piece helped to ground it historically, but the occasional bout of singing and dancing was slightly incongruous with the rest of the play.
It is a show not afraid of taking risks, much like the political schemers on stage. And much like them too, it leads to big triumphs and the odd disappointment.
Until October 29.