There are some dramas that write themselves. Not because James Graham’s ‘This House’ was a historically accurate play, but because it was larger than life. The five years following 1974 were peculiar times, a hung parliament and big social change, lend themselves to the stage. Playwright Graham commented that when he struggled with climaxes or conflict, he used the truth. For example, the only time in history the famous Big Ben and parliament clock had come to a halt. Neither bombs nor Blitz could stop it, it was as if it could sense the tension and freeze as a grand gesture of no confidence.
This House follows these eventful five year from the whips office. If you’re not familiar with the circus of British politics, the whips job is to whip members of parliament into shape, in the right direction, in their favour. A rather thankless and unglamorous job, but for some, it’s the best. As labour whip Walter Harrison described it as: being in the engine room of politics. Dirty and difficult, you turn the cogs with manipulation, barging, empathy and, if need be, physical persuasion. The cast of 16 worked like that well-oiled machine.
Playwright and director, Jeremy Herrin, have found comedy in this bleak situation. They were so many polar opposites that bounce and play of each other. The gruff northern Labour members and the plum voiced Tory members, the foul mouthed men and the girls that want nothing more than to play along, new thinking and old traditions. Anne Tyler played by Lauren O’Neil encouraged swearing and dreamed of being a chief whip.
The Houses of Parliament played its part, the benches were filled with audience members, the clock played the ever watchful eye and the Speaker introduced characters. London and its beautiful landmarks are often romanticised and for good reason, it is stunning and grand. It’s also old, that’s meant to be a compliment. New countries don’t have our traditions, the serjeants carry sword because that’s what was done. The placing of the ceremonial mace because that’s our majesty’s presence in the house.
It’s as if a soap opera has clashed with a historical documentary: manslaughter enquires, faked deaths and elaborate schemes. The life expectancy of Albert Square and the Houses of Parliament rival each other. Though nobody dies in ‘the house’, thirteen members of parliament still lost their life to exhaustion and stress. All fact. See, the drama writes itself. It makes you proud to be British.
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