This House at the National Theatre online
Like many of the now virtually replaced and freely available forms of lockdown entertainment, the National Theatre has offered up a Thursday night live stream of its repertoire. This week’s instalment is This House, which, though strewn with witty slander, does little to distract from the messy world of politics unfurling outside. There’s an irrefutable element to the streamed production that emphasises viewing from your couch as the world frazzles, holding a dim light up to the presence of live theatrical production.
Written by James Graham, This House chronicles the years spanning 1974-79 where a series of snap elections and messy deals highlighted the true mechanisms of British politics. Echoing the not-so-distant elections in the UK, the lines, “It’s a snap. Quick and painless” cause a chuckle followed by a particular kind of prickle. Inevitably, while it seems like a look to the past, This House acts as a mirror to our present. The sharply tongued, insult-centric dialogue is good, not great, and those looking for better quarantine fodder should turn to the works of Armando Iannucci (The Thick of It, Veep).
The story unravels predominantly through the Labour and Tory whips shuffling back and forth (and back again) between their interchangeable offices. Acerbic insults spar between the two parties as they move between their public and private locales. Director Jeremy Herrin orchestrates the action against the backdrop of the audience who sit in raked seating stands evoking parliamentary benches. The symbolism is clear as the audience’s seats swivel from backroom meetings to The Commons Chamber simultaneously including and excluding the public ears from political dealings. It’s intriguing, but its power is lacking on the silver screen.
Ultimately, the play drags on. Perhaps fittingly, conversations over voter exhaustion are simulated by audience exhaustion. The unending stage trick is matched by the band. Everyone knows that a recorded live rock band is the soothing remedy needed to quell our quarantine woes.
Photo: Johan Persson
This House is available to stream from the National Theatre from 28th May until 3rd June 2020. For further information visit the theatre’s website here.