A minority government stumbling from vote to vote, propped up by a dubious alliance with an Irish party, and never sure if the next moment could be their last.
It might sound like the latest dreary Brexit debate, but this National Theatre touring production of This House deals not with the machinations of the May government but with the lead-up to our first female prime minister and the Wilson and Callaghan governments of the 1974 Parliament.
And it’s a pleasingly lively affair. While it helps to have a political leaning (in any direction) James Graham’s revived script deals predominantly with the personal rather than the political, focusing on the sparring between the Labour and Conservative whips’ offices, and their frequently absurd attempts to win votes at any cost. It is funny, brash, and very rude.
A live three-piece band add musical reminders of the period, but the incredibly strong ensemble cast are easily punchy enough to keep up the tempo. Martin Marquez and James Gaddas have an earthy gallows humour as the Labour chief and deputy whip, foiled figuratively and ultimately literally by the aristocratic conniving of William Chubb and Matthew Pidgeon’s Tory counterparts.
The talented nine-strong chorus played a baffling range of parts, from Harry Kershaw’s mace-wielding Heseltine to Louise Ludgate’s lipped-pursed principled rebel Audrey Wise – only studying the programme would tell you she also played breastfeeding pioneer Helene Hayman, such was the transformation.
Rae Smith’s design effortlessly combines the whips offices with the chamber of the House of Commons, including a few green benches serving as seats for a handful of on-stage audience members. It’s an invigorating point of view, and also offers the chance of interval drinks at Strangers Bar on set; luckily for the country the closest I’m likely to come to being a lawmaker.
This is a sharp, talented and hugely enjoyable production and deserves not just any house, but a full house.