Review: This House, West Yorkshire Playhouse

When James Graham's masterful political comedy about Harold Wilson's mid-1970s minority Labour government struggling to cling on to power first appeared in 2012, it deservedly became an instant hit.

The cast of This House by James Graham. Credit: Johan Persson .
The cast of This House by James Graham. Credit: Johan Persson .

At that time it probably struck a chord with audiences because it was possible to see the parallels with David Cameron’s ‘chaotic’ Coalition government. How were we to know that, five years on, British politics would be taking the concept of chaos to a whole new level. Suffice to say that watching the play in 2018 contemporary resonances abound.

This outstanding production romps along at a sprightly pace so that the running time of nearly three hours just flies by. In a sense the drama is ready-made – there is plenty of jeopardy as Whips from either side of the House attempt to corral their backbenchers as literally every single vote counts, which means wheeling in members almost too ill to walk and making deals with the smaller parties. Wigs and costume deserve a special mention – all those flares, wide ties, bad haircuts and moustaches are lovingly reproduced.

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And, of course, some hairstyles are more significant than others – that bouffant blonde thatch could only belong to one Michael Heseltine, couldn’t it? Confirmed when in a fit of pique at perceived cheating by the Labour Whips he makes a sudden dash for the Commons mace, wielding it above his head.

Those moments of classic boys school bad behaviour are hugely entertaining, but Graham’s superb script is equally engaging on the minutae of political wheeler-dealing, exposing the central flaw of a system that is all about simply ‘muddling through’, hoping for the best.

It is as if everything has changed completely, yet remained exactly the same.

To March 17.