Touring – reviewed at The Lowry, Salford
Guest reviewer: Daniel Shipman
James Graham’s This House is a play that does not do things by halves. Set in the hung parliament of the late 1970s, it covers a wide range of themes, such as the divisive nature of party politics and the often devastating effect of political life on the people who lead it.
Similarly expansive is the variety of moods which Graham manages to cram into an evening – characters range from sympathetic portrayals of tragic figures which truly pull at the heartstrings, to out and out caricatures which break the tension and bring belly laughs to the whole theatre. Not bad for a show based on parliamentary procedure, a subject which could easily have been dull enough to cause drowsiness.
This production, directed by Jeremy Herrin and Jonathan O’Boyle, avoids the issues that so often arise in touring productions. It never once feels like you’re receiving the ‘light’ version of the show, where extraneous elements like live music have been replaced by cheaper options such as recorded sound. Quite the opposite, this show feels right at home in the Lowry’s Lyric theatre, as if in the middle of an extended run rather than a first night in one of many touring venues.
Each and every member of the cast deserves a mention by name, but as it sprawls to 19 people, that isn’t really feasible. However, Orlando Wells deserves a special mention, whose tragi-comic portrayal of John Stonehouse had me howling with laughter and pausing for thought within the same act. The sheer amount of roles played by each performer is astounding, with most actors having more parts than I can count on one hand. Despite this, I was never once left wondering quite who was being portrayed – admittedly, the regional accents tread the line between hilarious and unforgivable at times, but they serve their purpose.
This House has aged like a fine wine. References to the original referendum on Europe, economic crisis and ‘election fatigue’ are received knowingly by an audience who has experienced them first hand. All of this contributes to the miraculous feat of making a play about events which occurred over 40 years ago feel totally contemporary and relevant.