Reece Dinsdale (Walter Harrison) & Charles Edwards (Jack Weatherill)
The great pleasure of This House in the Cottesloe last autumn was taking your seat on green leather benches in the mother of all parliaments for an extended session of political ding dong between party whips, heavyweight fixers and smooth operators.
It was hard to envisage how the peculiar intimacy of the proceedings would survive an Olivier upscale treatment. But James Graham's enjoyable, if slightly unfocussed play, comes up a treat once more in Jeremy Herrin's production, with a radical re-design by Rae Smith and just three changes of cast among the Labour whips.
One side of the debating chamber is on the stage, with two banks of audience members shunted around in the scene changes, so that the audience proper forms the other side. The image of Big Ben moves, more effectively, centre stage, and the Speaker's Chair is to the stage left of the acting area; the Olivier centre aisle comes into play, too.
What a way to run a country is the obvious response to all the pettiness and squabbling in this five-year period from 1974 to the advent of Mrs Thatcher: it was a time of hung parliaments, knife-edge governments, the three-day week, even a Lib/Lab pact that survived more precariously and bitterly for longer than anyone expected.
It all seems vividly true to me, and rather nostalgic, but I still wonder what audiences who have no idea of the identity of the participants will make of it all: the disappearance of John Stonehouse, Michael Heseltine swinging the Mace, Jack (Bernard) Weatherill, later a famous Speaker, oiling the wheels, various invalids and drunks being shunted into the chamber for a crucial vote.
There was never more than a few votes separating the major parties, so all the minor ones had to be molly-coddled, a source of discomfort and distaste all round, something we can still sense in our current Coalition government. Most of the MPs are referred to by constituency only, but there's a good array of colourful individuality on show, too.
Phil Daniels - resuming the role he had to abandon last time round because of a family bereavement - is wonderfully gruff and foul-mouthed as the big Labour Party bruiser Bob Mellish (and much missed after the interval) while Reece Dinsdale has moved smoothly into Walter Harrison's suit and shoes, and David Hounslow has taken over as the bombastic Joe Harper.
Julian Wadham and Charles Edwards repeat their highly cherishable posh performances on the Tory side, Lauren O'Neil is neatly pragmatic as "new girl" Ann Taylor in the Labour whips' office (no place for a lady, really) and Rupert Vansittart almost impossibly pompous and very funny as a caricature of a Surrey stockbroker representative.