Writer: James Graham
Director: Jeremy Herrin
Directed by Jeremy Herrin, This House is not a story about legislation, or the law, or justice. This is about the true machinations of government, the most critical and most ridiculous part of our political system, which really has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.
It’s 1974 and Labour has won a snap election, but only by the skin of their teeth, and without a majority. Determined to stay in power, it’s not the prime minister at the forefront of this fight, but his whips who spend four and a half years begging, bartering, and browbeating in order to sway the Liberals, the Scottish Nationals, the Northern Irish and the Welsh, or as they’re affectionately called, the “odds and sods”. Every vote is a battle and the victor is decided by literally one or two votes.
The portrayal of both Labour and Conservative MPs is so farcical, you’d be forgiven for thinking the characters were invented for entertainment value: Labour is made up of a bunch of pub-going, football-loving lads with foul mouths, and you can practically see the Tories’ manicures from the audience (or your couch). It’s these characters that carry the story, where most of the action takes place off-stage, though we do at least get to see a foppish Michael Heseltine wielding the parliamentary mace “from its sacred position” and using it to threaten ministers during a vote.
Filmed for NTLive in 2013, a small audience sits on stage, serving as back benchers in the House of Commons, which is ideal for this particular purpose of online viewing, when, sitting at home on the sofa, we might feel isolated from the camaraderie created by a live audience.
Otherwise, watching online, it’s hard to know exactly how it’s staged. Suffice it to say, scenes seem to appear suddenly out of the darkness, moving from one to the next at an impossible pace, with no fussing over prop placement or scenery change.
In fact, considering the subject matter, it’s quite amazing that throughout there is such momentum and thrill. Whilst all the characters and goings on are clearly based on real politicians and real events, there’s no need to have any prior understanding of the mechanisms of politics, nor the historical period. Graham has found, in perhaps the least likely setting, a story of fun, excitement and absurdity, all set to a stellar soundtrack of David Bowie hits. What’s more, This House may be set in the past, but it’s almost painfully on the nose, and a heady reminder that our current political system doesn’t seem to be working anymore.
Available here until 4 June 2020