Inspirational AF: ‘It’s Just a Preference’

As Pride month ends in the US, and London Pride rolls around this weekend, I thought I’d include this amazing speech by Almeida Young Leader Darren Siah. It explores the issue of internalised prejudice in the LGBTQ* community with thought and eloquence and passion.

A side note: I think Love Island has shown this kind of prejudice is rife in the heterosexual community too, and there’s a brief article on racism within the show’s ‘preferences’ here.

What to wear to the Theatre 🎭

When I was younger, my biggest theatre experience was going to see The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House each Christmas. In attempt to fit in with the soft, crimson velvet, the gold brocade, the shimmering crystallised ballerinas, I would excitedly shimmy into my most special dress. Usually pink or purple, usually sparkly, chosen for maximum twirling potential. As you get older, though, tip-toed swishing into a theatre in a swirl of colour and sequins becomes slightly less acceptable (at least on a Monday night at a fringe theatre anyway… I reckon Kinky Boots would love it).

Having been lucky enough to see a lot of theatre, this idea of specially choosing what to wear has become rather redundant; a bit of a waste of time. We’re not quite at pyjama-wearing level yet, but after a long or difficult day jeans and jumper seems perfectly fine. Yet last year, when I invited many of my friends to the theatre who’d rarely been before “What shall I wear?” was often the first question they’d ask.

Part of this is to do with theatre’s image problem. Spanning back from the gentleman’s boxes and the wealthy audience sitting on the stage of the early modern stages all the way to the red carpets of press nights today, there’s a sense that you go to the theatre to see and be seen. This despite the fact that there seem to be fewer and fewer intervals in which to parade your finery for the masses; and if there are lots of intervals, it’s so much of a marathon that only comfy clothing will do (looking at you Angels in America). And added to this the fact that in most theatres, we’re sitting in the pitch black for the most part anyway.

It is only to be expected that no theatres have a set dress code anymore for everyday performances. A set of rules about what to wear necessarily excludes certain groups of people, and theatre should be open to all. Plus, the production will not fail because of your pair of grubby trainers. Actors may be a fragile group of people, but I assure you, their training is sufficient that they can carry on, whatever fashion faux par glares out at them from the front row. So rest easy (unless your clothes actually smell – but that faux par is not limited to the theatre).

P.S. When thinking about clothes can be helpful:

For some reason much of the time attendees feel the need to imitate the style of the performance in their outfits. The audience for Glengarry Glen Ross at the Playhouse Theatre last year had so many suited men I wondered whether I’d walked into some sort of regional conference by mistake – and sure enough, the play itself was about as interesting. Like draws like, at least where costumes are concerned. If you want to know what a show is like, checking out the clothes of the audience isn’t a bad idea.

Monday List: 5 Great Shakespeare Adaptations

I tend to think Shakespeare is best live and in a theatre – but with no shortage of screen adaptations, there are plenty of gems in there amidst the dullness of others. In honour of tonight’s broadcast of King Lear on BBC Two (9:30pm), enjoy this list of other fab adaptations of Shakespeare’s work.

  1. Shakespeare Re-Told: Much Ado About Nothing
    Re-telling Shakespeare in modern-day English, this series saw James McAvoy as a murderous Michelin-starred Macbeth, Shirley Henderson and Rufus Sewell as warring politicians in The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in a caravan park. But none of those was as good as the joyous rewrite of Shakespeare’s best romcom (no arguments please) by David NichollsSarah Parrish and Damien Lewis are Beatrice and Benedick as broadcasters, whose bickering is too much to take for their colleagues. It’s light-hearted and funny, just as this play should be.
  2. The Hollow Crown: Richard II
    All of The Hollow Crown is fantastic; faithful to the text, beautifully shot and acted. This, the first of them, is still my favourite, partly because I love Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear, who star as Richard and Bolingbroke respectively. You can find my review from way back in 2012, when this was first aired here.
  3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Russell T Davies)
    If you’re looking for a more irreverent take on a classic than The Hollow Crown will give you, Russell T Davies’ version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream should be right up your alley. However well you think you know this story of fairies and donkey heads and lovers, the last ten minutes will definitely surprise you. It’s also as star-studded as tonight’s King Lear, with Maxine Peake, Matt Lucas, John Hannah, Elaine Paige, and a handful of excellent young RSC/Globe actors as Puck and the lovers.
  4. Shakespeare Live! From the RSC
    Not strictly a full adaptation, but this deserves a place on this list for the many joyous excerpts from Shakespeare scenes, starring many British national treasures. The Rory Kinnear/Anne Marie Duff Macbeth scene is so gripping, it makes the recent National Theatre production feel like even more of a let-down. And who can forget the hilarious ‘To Be or Not To Be?’ sketch, starring none other than Prince Charles.
  5. Romeo + Juliet (Baz Luhrmann, 1996)
    The absolute classic. I was planning to just focus on TV adaptations, but I couldn’t leave this out. Flashy and over-the-top and melodramatic, this is a perfectly teenagery, stylistic version of Shakespeare’s fatal romance, filled with lustful longing. Also Leonardo DiCaprio deserves to be on every list in existence.

Inspirational AF: Dancing with a Tea Cup

How do they do it?! This is taken from DV8‘s Can We Talk About This?, a physical theatre production looking at freedom of speech, multiculturalism, and Islam, using verbatim interviews and elements of dance and mime. The physical strength of the performers, and the mental strength of this interviewee, Ann Cryer (the first politician to raise issues of forced marriage in the Houses of Parliament) are both inspirational AF. 

Check out more of DV8’s amazing, political, exciting work here.

#tbt The Astor Place Riot

When I say crowd riot, you might think of political protests, student revolution, football hooligans, eager fans. Theatre does not leap automatically to mind. Yet the 10th May 1849, 169 years ago today, saw a deadly riot break out at the Astor Opera House in Manhattan, NYC, killing at least 25 and injuring over 120: the infamous Astor Place Riot. And what provoked this awful event (and the largest number of civilian casualties due to military action in the United States since the American Revolutionary War)? A fight between two actors over who performed Shakespeare better. Talk about divas…

In fact, theatre riots were not an unusual occurrence in the early nineteenth century. Theatre was entertainment for the masses. Actors, and particularly the superstar actor-managers like our protagonists Edwin Forrest and William Charles Macready had legions of hardcore fans ready to defend them on a word (think the Cumberbitches/Directioners on steroids). ea3b8711772038b4ae14fe3220885461--america--break-outs

This came to a head when the Astor Place Opera House invited acclaimed British tragedian Macready to perform Macbeth during his US tour. This pissed the patrons of the Bowery Theater right off, as they were champions of American actor Forrest. Forrest had recently returned from a disappointing European tour where he’d been hissed and booed in London by Macready’s fans. In retaliation, Forrest embarked on a tour of the same cities Macready was playing, doing a rival version of Macbeth. Thus, when Macready was scheduled to appear at the Astor Place Opera House, the Bowery Theater downtown would mount Forrest’s production of Macbeth. As any Shakespeare fan knows, two Scottish plays in one city can surely never lead to good things.

However, this was not simply a fight about Shakespeare. It was rooted in much deeper conflicts; class, nationality, values. Astor Place was seen as a venue for the upper class; the Bowery Theater was not. The pretensions of the Astor Place moneyed patrons had become offensive to an emerging street culture embodied by “B’hoys,” or “Bowery Boys.” Macready and Forrest therefore came to represent upper-class New Yorkers versus lower-class, English versus American values.

On May 7th, things started badly. Macready walked onstage to be greeted by boos, hisses, and pelted rotten eggs and old boots. The performance had to be cancelled. Macready refused to perform for the next two days. It was only on May 10th that he agreed to continue – bravely ignoring, or blissfully unaware, that the Bowery Boys had stuck up posters around the city demanding action from its citizens: SHALL AMERICANS OR ENGLISH RULE THIS CITY?

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By the time the performance began a crowd of ten to twenty thousand people surrounded Astor Place, pelting it with bricks and paving stones. New York’s elite militia, the Seventh Regiment, was called in to quell the riot—the first time a military unit had been asked to do so in peacetime. When the crowd did not disburse, the soldiers were given the order to fire. Eighteen died that day, although more would die from their injuries over the next few days. The militia’s actions were widely praised by the city’s elite.

More than just a riot, we can even see this event as creating the stigma around Shakespeare that we see today. The idea that Shakespeare somehow belongs to the elite could come from, or have been furthered by this event and its fall-out. According to Nigel Cliff in The Shakespeare Riots, these riots furthered the process of class alienation and segregation in New York City and America; as part of that process, the entertainment world separated into “respectable” and “working-class” orbits. As professional actors gravitated to respectable theaters and vaudeville houses responded by mounting skits on “serious” Shakespeare, Shakespeare was gradually removed from popular culture into a new category of highbrow entertainment.

sad_shakespeare1

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astor_Place_Riot

https://www.thoughtco.com/astor-place-riot-1773778

http://www.boweryboyshistory.com/2014/05/the-astor-place-riot-massacre-at-busy.html

 

 

Quick Review: SeatPlan

Quick: If you need a lot of information quickly, SeatPlan is the place to go. With details from what’s on, to running times, to actual reviews of individual seats in many of the main theatres of London, Edinburgh, Oxford and more, the site aims to cover a lot. For the most part it succeeds, giving a comprehensive picture of individual productions (down to the play’s history, cast, and ticket details), and of the seats themselves. The site is easy to use, and some of the reviews are incredibly comprehensive.

What a couple of quick browses do show, pleasingly, is that most people are quite happy with theatre seating. Although the reviews get slightly worse as the seats get cheaper, the difference isn’t huge (although there are a few very angry people sitting in the Grand Circle of the London Palladium…), showing that you can expect relatively good views from most seats – hooray for cheap seats!

There are one or two notable absences from the London theatre scene at the moment – neither the Donmar, nor Shakespeare’s Globe seem to be up there, the latter of which, with its odd angles, hard seating, and standing tickets, would surely be particularly useful for tourists. The Oxford site, too, has nothing for the Oxford Playhouse, focusing only on the New Theatre. It would be great also to see some sort of ‘TripAdvisor’ style ranking of the most popular shows, but the amount of information already on this site is staggering. Shows that have pages here are a one-stop for shop for everything you could hope to know.

In terms of finding a seat, the separate scales for ‘Legroom’, ‘View’ and ‘Comfort’ are fantastic; it might be nice to have a tool that allows you to filter by these categories e.g. “show only 5* legroom seats”. This is a site for the planners; for those who prepare themselves for another Hamilton/Angels in America/Heathers rush rather than simply clicking on any seat available whilst shouting at the screen in a frantic panic. If you are this organised person, or a incredibly short/long-legged person, this site will be a godsend.

Quicker: SeatPlan is an incredibly comprehensive site, with everything you need to know about shows on at the moment; from cast lists, to synopses, to maps, photos, show reviews, legroom ratings and photos of the views from specific seats.

Quickest: Add your reviews now!

 

Review: The Writer, Almeida Theatre

You have to have respect for a piece of theatre that makes strangers talk to each other as they leave the building… even if that is only to express their utter bafflement at what they’d just seen. As I exited the Almeida‘s auditorium after a preview performance of The Writer, the young man sitting next to me caught my eye and laughed, “I just… don’t know what to say about that…”. I couldn’t agree more – and that’s a good thing.

Unashamedly provocative, Ella Hickson has created a piece of drama which skates through styles, constant fresh attempts to find the perfect approach to tackle huge themes. How pervasive is the patriarchy? Is it possible to ever escape its influence? What matters more: artistic vision or mass popularity or sales? Intent or effect? Having a clear and uncompromising message, or weakening that message so that it can actually get across to your audience? I’m not sure this play answers any of those questions, something which can only be a strength. This is theatre that makes you think.

Hickson’s formal innovation is experimental and exciting, as we are tossed through events in a young writer’s life. She is adept at switching from genuinely funny, heightened, back-and-forths to realism to mythical storytelling soliloquies and back again. The naturalistic acting is continually undercut by the unhidden scene changes; actors change costumes and members of stage management (almost all women) build the sets in front of the audience, never letting anyone for a moment forget that this is a piece of theatre. The writer’s world, a world which always feels unreal, fake, is created; nothing feels secure or grounded.

Romola Garai in the titular role shows the writer’s growth in confidence beautifully, transforming from doubtful and self-questioning, to someone with a front, a defence up against the world. The number of different orgasms she has to have, each with their own significance, is a thing to behold – if excruciatingly awkward for her audience (now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write).

At the risk of sounding like the men in the play (played with superb smugness by Samuel West and Michael Gould), sometimes the writer’s character is too self-involved to the point of being irritating. She isn’t supposed to be likeable, and that’s the point – even an ardent feminist desperate to dismantle the patriarchy will find it hard to empathise with her from very early on. Everyone will – and should – find elements of Hickson’s writing challenging.

Hickson anticipates many of the key criticisms that will be thrown at this piece. Following a mythic – and slightly dull – piece of storytelling in the middle of the play, the male director (Gould) enters: “You can’t end on that!” Cue a sigh of relief  and a burst of laughter from the worried audience. This doesn’t necessarily excuse the flaws, but it makes them seem to have some sort of point. Have we all been conditioned to enjoy quick verbal sparring because that is the male aesthetic? The questions raised just about justify the mild boredom (props also to Richard Howell’s lighting for making the stage beautiful during this section). That being said, surely allegorical tales of a mysterious island without men and over-heightened tales of making love by campfires are not the only option for a female aesthetic?!

You may not like parts of this play. You may not like it at all. But, insidious in its complexity, the questions it raises will stick with you for a long time.

Star Rating: ****

Go if: you like theatre that challenges, questions, makes you think. 

The Writer at Almeida Theatre, London runs until 26th May 2018. 

The show lasts 2 hours, no interval.

Captioned performance on 11th May, Audio Described performance on 19th May.

Review: The Red Barn, Lyttelton Theatre

“Here walk I in the black brow of night / To find you out”

King John, Act 5, Scene 6

William Shakespeare

The Red Barn is a triumph of cinematography on-stage. Bunny Christie’s set design is absurdly slick, and the National’s Lyttelton stage transforms from blizzard to country
house to New York apartment with unbelievable rapidity. It’s just a shame the story is so underwhelming.

Based on Georges Simenon’s novel, La Main, David Hare’s script is at first thrillingly pacey and mysterious. Two couples struggle against a New England snowstorm, clinging to each other for safety, when one of the men vanishes. What happened to him? blog-4Did he purposefully let go of his best friend’s hand? Was he deliberately left behind by said best friend? Can he possibly have survived mid-blizzard? The characters also initially appear intriguing. Mark Strong seems affable as Donald Dodd, whilst Hope Davis is eerily in-control as his wife Ingrid, and Elizabeth Debicki(of Night Manager fame)’s Mona Sanders seems numb with shock at her husband’s disappearance. The beginnings of an interesting, if not a great, thriller are there.

The rest of the play sadly fails to live up to this tension and promise, spiralling into the classic white man mid-life crisis drama. blog-6Ray Sanders’ disappearance is explained relatively quickly – don’t worry, no spoilers – and relatively boringly so we can get down to the real action: Donald’s dissatisfaction at his perfectly okay life.
Obviously people do feel frustration at having been the best in their class/year/college/state and ending up right back where they came from; at not making it in the big city because of fear. They’re scared that settling down is settling. These are all acceptable and real things. They are also things which I feel like I’ve seen on the stage, read about countless times before. Strong is as compelling as usual, but even he cannot make Donald’s plight that interesting.

Ingrid is by far the most intriguing character of the play. Davis’s perfectly made-up face is imperturbable. Determined to preserve her perfect small-town existence, Ingrid is dispassionately shrewd, apparently aware of everything, even before it happens. This disquieting perception, like the rest of the play, is at first exciting, and then lacks any real expansion. Davis deserves more stage time, and more character development. The other female protagonist, Mona, is similarly underwritten.blog-3 Essentially playing a slightly less helpless version of her Night Manager ‘damsel-in-distress’, Debicki is impossibly elegant even when tearfully mourning her vanished husband. I should be upfront about this – I find this type of female character indescribably irritating. The type which floats around seducing men by an inexplicable combination of reclining on various white sofas looking sophisticated and modelesque, and suddenly crumbling in a tragic show of fragility and vulnerability. Well, perhaps not that inexplicable… Debicki plays this as well as she did in the Night Manager, but the character herself just seems like someone no woman would ever write, because she’s so boringly reductive. Strong’s character is the only one who seems vaguely developed – we at least get to meet his father (played with grumpy catankerousness by Michael Elwyn). But are middle-aged men really that immature? What sets Donald off on his mid-life crisis? Not his career, not his kids, not his family, not politics, not news. Nope, he’s jealous of how much sex his best friend gets. Wow. Such character depth, Hare.

What makes the production worth seeing is the set. Pitch black panels cover the front of the stage, sliding open into various rectangles or squares of light, to reveal beautifully chic houses and apartments behind. Props (haha) to the stage crew for the impossibly quick transitions between Mona’s icily glamourous expansive apartment, enacted flashbacks to the night of the party, and the Dodd’s immaculate New England chalet/cabin.blog Given that Simenon’s novel is written in the first person, the black panels cleverly allow this sense of subjectivity to become clearer, closing in oppressively as Donald feels increasingly trapped in his life. In fact, the only excuse I can make for the underdeveloped characters is that the whole production takes place through Donald’s eyes. Drama is, however, an objective medium, and it’s so tough to get rid of this audience preconception. People, Places, and Things and 1984 have achieved it (the latter also directed, and written, by Robert Icke, the director of The Red Barn). I think it’s great that theatre in general, this production included, is experimenting with how to subvert expectations – I just don’t think The Red Barn makes this intention clear enough.What the set design is trying to achieve is fantastic, but whether it does so is dubious.

The key word for this production is stylish. Rarely have I seen such a glamorous production. blog-5The actors make the most of what they are given, the opening is gripping, and the finale is thrillingly tense, although not unexpected. What Icke and Hare are trying to achieve, dramatizing a subjective viewpoint, is exciting. Sadly, I just don’t feel like script, design, direction all meshed together to successfully show this. It’s also worth mentioning that, whilst the set is amazing, its gimmick feels almost too cinematographic at times. There is only ever one piece of action going on at once. Your gaze is directed only to one piece of dialogue, one piece of drama. When a character finishes their piece, they leave. What The Red Barn suggests is that, rather than trying to employ cinematic or bookish techniques, the theatricality of stage performance must be exploited to create really successful on-stage subjectivity.

The Red Barn at the National Theatre: 2/5 stars

Review: Nice Fish, Harold Pinter Theatre

“My thoughts are whirled like a potter’s wheel”: I know not where I am, nor what I do”

Henry VI part 1, Act 1, Scene 5

William Shakespeare

Two men killing time whilst waiting for something that might never happen. Remind you of anything…? blog-2Mark Rylance and Louis Jenkins’ new play Nice Fish shares many similarities with Waiting for Godot, but far outstrips even Beckett in its absurdity. So absurd is the script, in fact, that it seems like it really belongs at a fringe or off-West End theatre, rather than being a Broadway-to-West-End transfer. The Harold Pinter Theatre feels an odd location, something based entirely on Rylance’s reputation rather than anything about the specific production. To be fair, I only booked to see the show because of Sir Mark; plays about ice fishing in Minnesota don’t tend to be my usual fare…

The set, however, is an immediate assuager of doubts. The stage is an ice-field, perspective given by a tiny road in the distance, with the lights of cars and trains speeding past miniature electricity pylons. An automated doll picks at the ice next to a tiny house – and then in an instant the lights black out creating one of the darkest darknesses I’ve ever experienced.
The kind that makes you almost have to shut your eyes because it’s so overwhelming. When the lights come up again the doll has become a real life person. It’s an early warning of the crazy perspective shifts to come.

At first it appears to be a straight-forward two-hander. Jim Lichtscheidl plays straight-man Erik to Rylance’s rather more ridiculous Ron, the kind of person who, during the first moments of the play, manages to drop his mobile through an ice hole into the freezing lake below. blog-4A big pro for this play was that, within ten minutes of it starting, I heard my mum laugh out loud at a joke. (It was about walking into multiple rooms and forgetting R why you were there. Classic mum-joke fare). This is generally rare. It’s not that she doesn’t find things funny, she just doesn’t actually lol. As it were. So well done Mark Rylance for that. To be perfectly honest I would watch him read the Yellow Pages (if they still exist…?) He brings a sense of immediacy to a performance that few other actors can pull off, and it is put to great effect in this production. He is allowed to roam the stage, play with audience reactions, even play with one of those singing fish you put on your wall. loved this bit so much, we used to have one of those in my house when I was little.

At first, we get quite a few interspersed scenes between the odd couple, poetic reflections scattered among the more classic time-killing interchanges between the two. I personally find reminiscing monologues as a concept to be a little tiresome, and a bit short-handy, but the language during these sections rhythmic enough to work a kind of spell over the audience, even if you don’t listen to exactly what everyone is saying all the time. blog-6The more comedic sections are the real charm of the play, however. Ron pretending to be a snowman is a great sequence. Then, unexpectedly, other characters start to arrive. Bob Davis appears briefly as an officious DNR man, followed by Raye Birk and an Ariel-like  Kayli Carter as grandfather and precocious granddaughter who own a sauna in the middle of the frozen lake. With their arrival the oddities which have occurred so far start to build and build until next thing you know they’ve all disappeared in a snowstorm/hurricane, and Davis’ head pops like a seal out of an ice hole clutching Ron’s lost phone in his hand.

From then on the absurdity only increases. **SPOILERS for the end coming up (not in terms of plot, just in terms of design)** Lichtscheidl and blog-3Rylance strip off their thick coats and scarves to reveal businessmen suits – they must be sweating like pigs under those stage lights wow – and then almost immediately take those off to uncover yet another costume change, with Lichtscheidl as an old man, and Rylance as his elderly wife, hobbling about the stage and complaining about life as if it was a movie they didn’t understand (that’s not me being poetic, that’s literally the concept). This was one of my favourite scenes. By this time you’ve just accepted and embraced the ridiculousness, and when two massive fish hooks descend from the ceiling and reel Rylance and Lichtscheidl’s confused OAPs up into the sky it’s a fittingly hilarious ending to a baffling but enjoyable evening.

Where the production falls down, I think, is the middle section. Although director Claire van Kampen does her best to keep providing newly interesting scene changes, tents that fly away, new weather conditions,blog-5 there are definitely moments where you wonder if this play has any point at all, especially during any particularly poetic reminiscing scenes. And not in a “wow, the point is that it has no point” way, like we get by the end, but in a “who knew ninety minutes could be this long” way. Still, this is only a brief feeling, and it is soon made clear that the bemusement is purposeful. This is a play I certainly won’t forget seeing, and I’m so glad I went to see, because it’s really not something I’d usually book to see. Go and see it for an entertaining, bewildering (and short!) night of theatre – and remember, if you turn up in a fish or fisherman costume you get a free box!*

Nice Fish at the Harold Pinter Theatre: 3.5/5 stars

*sadly no one did this when we were there, and I didn’t have the guts to do it myself.

“The commons, like an angry hive of bees that want their leader, scatter up and down”

Henry VI part 1, Act 3, Scene 2

William Shakespeare

If there was ever a political year we can be certain will be dramatised, it’s 2016. One can only hope it will be James Graham writing the script, given the poignancy and wittiness he lends 1970s politics in This House. blog-3First produced in the National in 2012, this revival was clearly calculated to highlight a growing sense of political déjà vu – see the first three lines of the blurb for details: “Is a political revolution coming? Will the Labour party collapse? Can the kingdom stay united?”

Set amongst the Whips’ offices in the heart of parliament, the play sees the harassed and strained Whips attempt to control a bunch of chaotic and unruly MPs in a government which is hanging by a thread. Sick and dying politicians are wheeled in for motion after motion because each and every vote matters like never before. It’s this atmosphere of chaos, the real drama of politics, which the play captures so well.

The protagonists are the two Deputy Chief Whips. Steffan Rhodri (aka Dave Coaches from Gavin and Stacey) plays the Labour hardman Walter Harrison, whilst Nathaniel Parker is his slickly spoken Tory opponent, Jack Weatherill. Both of these characters were engaging and, crucially, likeable. blog-4As a rule, it’s the unlikeable characters who create better theatre (see Hedda Gabler, Richard III, A View From the Bridge for details). Here, however, it felt important to give both men some sort of integrity, perhaps because of the political subject. It’s refreshing to see people with contrasting opinions and world-views represented as equally understandable, and equally human. It’s not that the stereotypes of stuck-up Tory and chippy Labourite weren’t there; Malcolm Sinclair was gloriously pompous as Conservative Chief Whip Humphrey Atkins, whilst as his Labour counterpart Phil Daniels was equally gloriously foul-mouthed a la Malcom Tucker. But whilst showing the ludicrousness of British politics in abundance, This House also paints an overall picture of the nobility at the heart of the system. Throughout the play, frazzled MPs complain about the presence of people messing up an otherwise perfect way of government. And whilst that may be true, the ending shows the flipside; that human emotions, codes of conduct, and honour systems, are also part of the beauty of the British political system. blogYou come away with a deep sense of respect for the people behind-the-scenes, who dedicate their lives to making sure the party they believe is right remains in power – even if a sense of futility often haunts their frantic manoeuvrings.

Phew. That’s enough lyricism for one review. Back to the practicalities of theatre. The staging at the Garrick Theatre is mostly well done. There is a sense of streamlined chaos to the people pacing back and forth within the two Whip offices onstage. The best bit of direction is having the Speaker of the House announce each character by their title as they enter (e.g. “the Member for Oxfordshire East”). A small issue was that the Speaker changed after the interval – in itself not a problem, but it made it appear like this new Speaker was a character who’d already appeared. Which he wasn’t. Just a bit unnecessarily confusing.

I also had a big problem with a part of the staging. The blog-6offices are surrounded by the wooden walls of the House of Commons, with a whole upper level of green seats filled with audience members looking down on the action. This in itself is a great idea, an attempt to recreate the intimacy and audience engagement of the Dorfman. However, any action on this upper level was completely invisible to those sitting in the back half of the stalls (like me). The majority of the drama, to be fair, took place on the mainstage, but quite a few scenes (including one immediately after a key character’s death) were totally hidden from view. I understand transfers are difficult, I understand older theatres are built with different requirements, and I understand this may have looked fantastic to the rest of the audience, but theatre is expensive. Just getting there takes effort and time and money, and I think directors like Jeremy Herrin should factor in the view from every seat when they produce a show. That’s not to say everyone has to have a full view at all times – that’s just unachievable – but it shouldn’t be physically impossible for a whole section of audience to see entire scenes.

Anyway, rant over. Despite these flaws, this is an engaging, informative and witty political drama, with an important sense of poignancy throughout.blog-5 The ensemble cast are excellent; I particularly liked Lauren O’Neill as Ann Taylor, the only female Whip, and Kevin Doyle as her boss Michael Cocks. For someone who knew virtually nothing about this period of politics, the anecdotes and stories that feature (including Michael Heseltine seizing the parliamentary mace and John Stonehouse’s fake disappearance) seem almost unbelievable. But funny. The blackly comedic atmosphere is what this play gets right. It makes for an entertaining and powerful night out – just don’t sit at the back of the stalls.

This House at the Garrick Theatre: 3.5/5 stars