James Graham's new play This House, which is set in the House of Commons during the turbulent 1970s, opened at the NT Cottesloe this week.
Directed by Royal Court associate Jeremy Herrin, the production features a set that recreates the iconic Commons benches and an ensemble cast that includes Charles Edwards and Philip Glenister.
With designs by Rae Smith, This House runs at the NT Cottesloe until 1 December 2012, before transferring to the NT Olivier in February 2013.
Michael Coveney…James Graham’s lively play, directed by Jeremy Herrin as a sort of violent political cabaret, is flecked with surreal sequences…but too much of the detail…will engage only political wonks and historians…Philip Glenister as Walter Harrison and Richard Ridings as a gargantuan Joe Harper make a colourful pair of class warriors on the Labour side, with Julian Wadham as an ultra-smooth Humphrey Atkins and Charles Edwards as Jack (Bernard) Weatherill, later a famous Speaker, exuding an oily but always pragmatic determination for the party opposite…the design of Rae Smith, the lighting of Paule Constable and choreography of Scott Ambler (not to mention the rock music) all play their part in a show that certainly makes vivid use of the Cottesloe and confirms Graham as a playwright to watch.
Henry Hitchings…The emphasis on compromise and austerity resonates for us now, and Graham approaches the chaos of party politics in a style that is often bitingly funny…Director Jeremy Herrin injects plenty of pace, and there is arresting movement choreographed by Scott Ambler. There’s also bracing music by Stephen Warbeck, with especially effective use of some David Bowie songs, strongly performed by Gunnar Cauthery. He’s part of a powerful ensemble…With a running time close to three hours, This House is a bit too long, and some of its devices…seem laboured. But it’s a fresh and energetic piece. Visually enjoyable and packed with clever lines, it calls to mind the pin-sharp profanity of The Thick of It while displaying a humane and savvy wit that is very much Graham’s own.
Charles SpencerIt’s not often that I sit through a three-hour play wishing it longer. But James Graham’s superb new drama held me and I suspect everyone else in the audience enthralled throughout. It is by turns funny, touching and cliff-hangingly suspenseful…Graham has researched his play with exemplary thoroughness and there is a thrilling tang of authenticity about the piece…Jeremy Herrin’s production ensures that this wordy and complex piece seethes with dramatic energy. There’s a live band to deliver a couple of highly apposite David Bowie numbers, and Rae Smith’s designs memorably capture the Palace of Westminster. There are cracking performances, too. Special praise must go to Philip Glenister…and Charles Edwards…When the theatrical prize-giving season begins, I have little doubt that This House will be a strong contender for the best new play of 2012.
Michael Billington…Mostly the play is about pragmatic survival and my only complaint is that Graham gives the impression that dodgy parliamentary arithmetic virtually crippled the business of government…But Jeremy Herrin's production recaptures, with abundant theatricality, accompanying music and choreographed movement, the mayhem of Westminster politics. And, in a large cast, Philip Glenister, Vincent Franklin and Andrew Frame as working-class Labour whips, Julian Wadham, Charles Edwards and Ed Hughes as their smooth-suited Tory equivalents and Christopher Godwin and Rupert Vansittart amongst the role-swapping ensemble are outstanding. It may be a bit of an anoraks' night out but, as a relic of the period, I had a thoroughly good time.
Libby Purves…Rae Smith’s design frames Jeremy Herrin’s lively production of James Graham’s first play for the National…From facts and memoirs Graham shapes a brilliantly exhausting, funny and moving political epic (nearly three hours flash by). Julian Wadham and Charles Edwards are marvellous Tory whips — Wadham unrepentantly patrician, Edwards subtle as Bernard Weatherill, whose cross-party friendship with his opponent Harrison is genuinely affecting. For Labour, Vincent Franklin, Philip Glenister and Andrew Frame exude blind desperation, and Lauren O’Neill drily plays Ann Taylor, the first female whip. A multi-wigged ensemble provide lovely cameos of real and fictional MPs…Cleverly, Graham acknowledges that the social gulfs were already blurring…another hit is born in the Cottesloe. It will last longer than the years it depicts.