This House Pair

Matthew Pidgeon and James Gaddas. Picture: Johan Persson

This House

Malvern Theatres


Hung Parliaments . . . there is a very interesting contemporary echo as we watch the challenges facing the Labour administration in the mid-1970s, when the Government had the largest number of MPs by the slenderest of margins, three or two much of the time, and relied on the ‘Odds and Sods’  (i.e. the small number of MPs from the lesser parties - Liberals, Scottish Nationals etc) to help keep them in power.

James Graham’s play depicts the story of those years in the Palace of Westminster and the struggles to keep going for the full term of five years.

The play is a satire that derives comedy from the arcane and archaic traditions of British democracy. To help those less informed in the audience the programme notes include a glossary to explain the practice of ‘Nodding Through’ and ‘Pairing’, to explain the role of the Whips.

Much of the play takes place in the Whips’ Office and explores their role in keeping their party members onside and supportive,  and ensuring that they are all present and voting correctly for crucial votes. Members arrive in wheelchairs, helicopters and in various states of physical crises to add humour and pathos to a farcical situation.

There are some striking and excellent elements to this show. Rae Smith’s set is brilliant: the oak panelling, the Speaker’s Throne, the dominant clock face, the green all make an instant impression and evoke memories of the Palace. The use of music (Stephen Warbeck)  is very clever and links to Scott Ambler’s choreographed movements from the cast,  which is large and therefore has great variety. The lighting (Paul Constance/Ben Pickersgill)  s likewise very well designed to support the action and focus the audience appropriately.

The pace of the show means that there is a strong degree of momentum – all credit to Directors Jeremy Herrin and Jonathan O’Boyle.

The depiction of the members of our governing classes is pretty depressing. The coarse language, the aggressive self- interest, the inescapably adversarial nature of the process has the culture of a coarse boys’ club. There is no sense that our elected representatives are principled or seeking to serve the interests of the people. They are entirely self-serving and cynical. In that regard the satire is cutting and powerful, albeit over-stated.

The strong cast is large and operates as an ensemble much of the time. The Labour and Tory Whips are the key characters and are all very well portrayed. James Gaddas (as Walter Harrison), William Chubb (as Humphrey Atkins)  and Matthew Pidgeon (as Jack Weatherill) gave very clearly delineated and controlled performances.

The show ends up somewhat overlong and relies for humour excessively on the coarse at times. However, the energy of the cast, the visual strength, the musical variety and the manipulative conflicts between the Whips, all make for an entertaining insight into the process of Government which is not entirely reassuring for the electorate viewing the performance. To 19-05-18

Timothy Crow


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