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This House

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

Five years is a long time in politics just as it is in the theatre. When James Graham’s epic reimagining of one of the most pivotal eras in late twentieth century British democracy first appeared in 2012, its depiction of the aftermath of the 1974 hung parliament in Westminster chimed with a then current coalition. Half a decade and a couple of referendums on, Graham’s dramatic whizz through to 1979’s successful vote of no confidence in the Labour government now looks like a warning.

Jeremy Herrin and Jonathan O’Boyle’s touring revival of a production first seen at the National Theatre begins with both sides of the House marching en masse in their grey suits and twin-sets down the aisles of the auditorium before cutting a well-choreographed rug in formation. As the Labour and Tory whips mark out their territory away from the chamber, this proves to be one of the few moments of unity in a breathless yarn that picks at the old-school gentleman’s agreement that parliament was built on.

With assorted Prime Ministers and leaders of the opposition offstage, Graham’s set up is part-Shakespearian, with most MPs addressed by their constituency name, and part Horrible Histories, as ageing politicians are wheeled from their death-beds to vote. With Big Ben’s briefly stopped clock-face looming over Rae Smith’s wood-panelled set, a cast of nineteen plus a four-piece band burl their way through botched devolution votes, bar-room deals and all-night sittings en route to the end of the post-war consensus. If the final honourable act of honour that ushers in the new order points to the need for a less combative politics, it’s the play’s final words from arguably the most significant off-stage player that speaks volumes about what happens next.

The Herald, March 30th 2018


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