25 March 2017 | 6 °C

10 Things We Learned From Watching This House

This House, Garrick Theatre ★★★☆☆

10 Things We Learned From Watching This House This House, Garrick Theatre 3
Nathaniel Parker as Jack Weatherill contemplating the Whip's work

This House is currently playing at The Garrick Theatre in the West End. Here are 10 things we learned from watching it:

1. A game of cat and mouse

The play is a relentless cat and mouse game set in the bowels of the Palace of Westminster and the whips' offices. From here, they try to keep their members in line. There isn't much drama but an awful lot of comedy in retelling the period of the minority Labour government from 1974-1979.

2. No laughing matter

Despite all the laughs, the country at the time was a mess. Mass strikes, garbage on the streets, high inflation, policies failing to pass... For the politicians it's all fun and games with petty point scoring until the country needed an IMF bailout.

3. It helps if you were there

Whether you understand or care about the show and its characters might depend on whether you lived through the period. This House does hurl large chunks of parliamentary tradition at the audience in the guise of dialogue to new members. But ultimately, it feels like a memory piece for the myopic.

4. Little fish

No big politicians star. Callaghan and Thatcher are talked about. But the key part of the story is the relationship between the deputy whips for the Conservative and Labour parties. Alas, the relationship doesn't always feel believable. Characterisations begin and end with the types of suits the characters wear. Tailored wool for the Conservatives and ill-fitting man made fibres for Labour.

5. In hindsight...

The play premiered at the National Theatre in 2012 while we were 'enjoying' the coalition government. Looking back on it now, the government of 2010-2015 seemed pretty tame (and successful) compared to what happened in the 1970s. Nick Clegg has a column in the programme and avoids gloating. Maybe it is too soon.

6. Nervous laughter

Talking of too soon... all the references to Europe and the last EU referendum seem to elicit nervous laughter  from the audience. It proves that while everyone's happy to laugh at politics, sometimes it's a while before doing so feels OK.

7. Big Ben breaks down and Parliament is crumbling

Sound familiar?

8. Missing epicness

The play feels a little squashed in the Garrick. The confined space brings out the basement feel of the government and opposition whips' offices. But it tends to feel like it is missing the epic scale that it had at the National. There, the madness seemed heightened.

9. A writer in love with politics

The piece is directed by Jeremy Herrin and written by James Graham. Graham likes to write about political dramas. He wrote Tory Boyz, The Vote and possibly a future drama (or a comedy) about Brexit.

10. Drinking on stage

There is an on stage bar. And on stage seating. We weren't sure about either, since the bar in the play serves warm beer and those seats on stage don't look that comfortable. And you have to deal with characters dying in front of you at various points. Politics, like drama, can be a cruel business.

This House is at the Garrick Theatre. Tickets £20-£75. Londonist attended on a complimentary ticket. Production photos by Johan Persson

Last Updated 09 December 2016