This House Review

A review of "This House" by James Graham produced by The National Theatre.

In theatrical storytelling, political messages in plays often provoke polarized opinions. Whilst some perceive them as enriching thematic elements, others, like me, have viewed them with contempt due to instances where quality storytelling is overshadowed by a heavy-handed political agenda. However, my recent experience with James Graham's play "This House" offered a refreshing departure from this expectation. 

Graham masterfully tells a compelling narrative that ignores political divides, captivating audiences regardless of their political affiliations. Unlike other playwrights who preach their political views, Graham humanizes politicians often portrayed as caricatures. "This House" effectively balances tension and engagement throughout its over two-hour runtime, depicting the tumultuous events of the 1974 Labour minority government with gripping intensity. Having previously viewed Graham's "Brexit: The Uncivil War," I found his adept pacing and effective storytelling skills evident once again, with the use of subtle time skips to reduce the time of the play. Audience feedback echoed my sentiment, praising the accessibility of the narrative despite its complex themes.  

The National Theatre's production of "This House" elevates the play's thematic resonance through its incredible attention to artistic detail. The set design ingeniously recreates the Westminster Palace, with rotating seats mirroring the House of Commons whilst acting as walls to Westminster and illuminated hallways delineating government and shadow whip offices. The incorporation of a moving Pugin chair adds dynamism to scene transitions, while the strategic lighting design effectively guides the audience's focus. Though performances were generally commendable, with Philip Glenister's portrayal of Walter Harrison standing out as comedic and charismatic performances. However, the audience noticed some instances of overacting, notably by Vincent Franklin, which detracted from the overall experience. Nonetheless, the ensemble cast succeeded in imbuing their characters with depth, enhancing the authenticity of the theatrical experience. 

Directorial choices such as the live band during time skips, also used in Graham’s “Brexit: The Uncivil War” and the use of the Speaker to transition between scenes were met with appreciation from the audience, aiding in clarity amidst a sizable cast of characters. The distinct personalities and traits of each character contributed to a memorable theatrical experience, resonating with audiences long after the curtain fell. 

In my opinion, one potential issue with the play was that it did require some previous knowledge about parliamentary history, political institutions and the workings of parliament. As I had done research on “This House” and Graham’s previous work, I had no difficulty understanding the play, however this was not the same for a large amount of the audience. Whilst Graham does use the beginning of the play to introduce the context of the play, the characters and situation, ultimately many members of the audience felt confused or disorientated near the end of the play due to lack of knowledge. This knowledge includes concepts such as by-elections, split vote, votes of no confidence, hung parliaments and the ceremonial mace. These are all concepts that are not well known by the public and thus partially undermines some of the greater parts of the play. 

In conclusion, James Graham's "This House" stands as a testament to the power of theatre to transcend political divides and deliver a captivating narrative that resonates with audiences on a human level. Its success both artistically and narratively makes it a must-see production for anyone interested in UK politics or drama in general. 

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Ben Swarbrick

Ben Swarbrick

I'm an A-Level student interested in psychology while applying my knowledge to any situation.

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