SET in the Labour and Conservative whips’ offices of the late 1970s, This House provides an account of what might have gone on behind the scenes in the House of Commons as the Labour Governments of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan tried to cling on to power.
The production is on at The Lyceum, Sheffield, until Saturday (2) as part of a UK tour following a successful run on the West End.
This House looks back to a period of British politics, between 1974 and 1979, which is suprisingly prescient to today - a time when the country was gripped by debates over whether it should be part of a united European community and whether it should devolve powers to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Writer James Graham researched the production by speaking to politicians from the era, including former Labour MP Joe Ashton, who served in the Labour whips’ office at the time and wrote his own play about the period, Majority of One, which was staged at the Nottingham Playhouse in 1988.
Company stage manager Matt Henry’s set transports you to the whips’ offices of Labour and the Conservatives within which debates rage about how to win the support of ‘the others’ - Liberals and the Welsh, Scottish and Irish parties.
But through a clever use of lighting and technical wizardry the same set transports you to locations such as the benches of the House of Commons, Westminster Hall, the Stranger’s Bar and the River Thames.
A live punk band, the kind of which were popular in the era, perform music such as Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide by David Bowie, and Pretty Vacant by The Sex Pistols in between scenes.
One on side of the stage, Martin Marquez puts in a gritty performance as the Labour chief whip Bob Mellish who at one point describes himself as the party’s “token Cockney”.
James Gaddas is flawless as whip Walter Harrison who despite his bad manners is portrayed as a master of backroom deals who wins respect from all parts of the House.
Natalie Grady portrays Ann Taylor who breaks ground as a female whip in a pre-Thatcher era of macho politics.
David Hounslow and Tony Turner portray the other whips, Michael Cocks and Joe Harper.
On the other side of the stage, Matthew Pidgeon is Conservative chief whip Jack Weatherill, a schemer who tries to curry favour with politicians across the House and unltimately bring down the Labour government.
William Chubb portrays Humphrey Atkins and Giles Cooper is young whip Fred Silvester who tries to establish his authority in a party full of older men.
Ian Barritt and Nicholas Lumley are among a number of actors portraying MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who are, intentionally or not, like caricatures of themselves.
This House is an amusing and entertaining insight into the backroom deals and murky goings-on of the Government and opposition of the late 1970s.