Monday, 15 April 2013

'This House' - Political Play by James Graham

by Hannah Gent

This House
The National Theatre Play 'This House' by James Graham

"1974. The UK faces economic crisis and a hung parliament. In a culture hostile to cooperation, it’s a period when votes are won or lost by one, when there are fist fights in the bars and when sick MPs are carried through the lobby to register their vote"

'This House' is set between 1974 and 1979, showing the political climate of the Harold Wilson and James Callaghan governments. The Labour Party started out as a minority government in 1974  and only had the majority by a few votes in the second election of that year. Therefore, every vote counted for the Labour Party as they had to fight to pass legislation. In order to do this they had to win over as many of the ‘odds and sods’ as possible. These 'odds and sods' were the MPs from minority parties such as the liberals. With an extremely slim majority the Labour Party need every other vote possible as the vote can be won or lost by just one.

Eventually, every MP is required to be present in Parliament to avoid losing a vote of No Confidence. However, this results in MPs who are sick and unable to attend being forced to even though their health is in danger. A 'tradition' that the two parties often relate to in this play is pairing. This occurs when an MP from one party is unable to attend so the other party take one of their MPs out of the vote to make the numbers even and the vote fair. This 'tradition' does get questioned as these single votes can make such a difference and at one point it is discarded which means that the two parties (the Labour Party in particular) have to do everything in their power to make sure all of their MPs are present to win, or at least draw, the vote.

I went to see this play a few weeks ago with not much previous knowledge of politics around this time. However, leaving the theatre I realised how much I had actually understood from this play and the problems that occur with these voting systems and the 'traditions' within. It was an excellent play that would suit a variety of audiences with humour and an excellent cast. Personally, I really liked the on-stage seating (the first three rows were turned into the green benches of the House of Commons) as it gave the crowded and busy atmosphere of all the activity in Parliament.


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