FILM REVIEW: THIS HOUSE.
YOU DO NOT need to be an expert in the shenaginans of British political history to be swept away on the current of caustic cynicism and dead pan humour that sutures together this beautiful piece of theatre. James Graham’s contemporary work aligns Tory values with Liberal ones, life with death, and men with women, in a narrative that, peppered with bias and stereotypes is as much about the childish behaviour in any parliamentary formality as it is about the personal and petulant desire to be top dog. This House is this week’s National Theatre Live at Home work that you are privileged enough to watch for free, whenever you like, over the next few days, on youtube.
It is 1974, on the eve of Margaret Thatcher’s election and the British Parliament is on the verge of being hung. It is here where we meet two adjoining rooms full of whips and a cacophony of members, some on their death beds, others still mewling in swaddling clothes.
But more than a tale hinged on a dissection of the Devolution Bill by chaps in suits, this a work as timeous and as terrifyingly farcical as a contemporary reflection on the status quo in Britain – or anywhere else in the world where important men in suits and wigs get down and dirty in public. Featuring everything from a faux suicide to a floor crosser, a woman with the temerity to breastfeed in context and an understood myth that no one dies in the palace, it’s immensely complicated but fiercely legible. It’s also very long, clocking in at over 2.5 hours, but once the momentum, the rudeness and the crispness of the performances get into their stride, you will be hooked and whatever the clock says will not matter.
Featuring completely bewildering tactics where the audience is seated in banks that move with the changing of scenes and cast members find themselves seated with the audience from time to time, the piece is lit tightly, allowing context to flow with great clarity and unbridled clownishness. Like any bit of boardroom choreography, it is hilarious and serious all at once, and featuring the most well known face in England, that of Big Ben, it’s about the acuity of time, too.
If you enjoyed the witty and spiteful, unleashed and unexpurgated viciousness between the two QCs, played by Simon Callow and David Fleeshman in the 1990s BBC series Trial and Retribution, you will be completely in your element here. The language is crisp and sharp and its delivery completely splinteringly fine. This is the best of contemporary British theatre and it will leave you tingling with the feeling of having been in the presence of sheer greatness.
- This House is written by James Graham and directed by Jeremy Herrin for the Olivier Theatre, in 2013. It is performed by Robin Bowerman, Charlie Buckland, Sarah-Jayne Butler, Gunnar Cauthery, Phil Daniels, Reece Dinsdale, Charles Edwards, Vincent Franklin, Antony Gabriel, Peter F Gardiner, Christopher Godwin, Andrew Havill, David Hounslow, Ed Hughes, Fred Lancaster, Helena Lymbery, Andrew McDonald, Lauren O’Neil, Matthew Pidgeon, Giles Taylor, Tony Turner, Rupert Vansittart and Julian Wadham, with live music by Jim Hustwit (guitar), Sam Edgington (bass), Cristano Castellite (drums), Gunnar Cauthey and Phil Daniels (vocals). Produced and presented by the National Theatre Live at Home, it features creative input by Rae Smith (production design), Paul Anderson (lighting) – based on the production’s original lighting design by Paule Constable – Stephen Warbeck (music), Jim Hustwit (musical director), Scott Ambler (choreography), Ian Dickinson (sound) and directed for screen by Tim van Someren. It broadcasts for free until June 3 via the National Theatre’s youtube channel.