Review: This House at Cambridge Arts Theatre - the story of how decency died but a great night at the theatre

This House at the Cambridge Arts Theatre

This House at the Cambridge Arts Theatre - Credit: Archant

James Graham’s play, This House, takes you back to the 1970s. It’s set in the House of Commons and it opens with MPs waving their order papers to a band with skinny musicians in jeans with long, flowing tresses. It then moves into the punk era and like the band’s spikey hair and the studs, everything gets harsher.

There is humour, history and poignancy here with exemplary performances that draw the audience into a lost world.

It’s the story of a struggle, a time of turmoil. It’s 1974, there is a hung Parliament. Harold Wilson’s Labour Party has won by four seats - to govern they must get on side all the “odds and sods”: the Liberals, the Scot Nats, the MPs from Northern Ireland. The Government, almost entirely men, will stand or fall on the strength of the whips.

Meanwhile, the leaders of all three parties change. Harold Wilson resigns because of ill health. It wasn’t disclosed at the time but he was diagnosed with Alzheimers, Liberal Leader, Jeremy Thorpe went on trial for the attempted murder of his gay lover (such a juicy scandal at the time that the Sun newspaper moved page three to cover it) and the Tories decided to get rid of Edward Heath with a “stalking horse” they thought no one would vote for called Margaret Hilda Thatcher.

Labour called a second election but still had too slender a majority to relax, just three people. One of them was John Stonehouse, the Postmaster General who faked his own death on a beach so he could run off to Australia with his secretary and was also accused of embezzlement.

During this Parliament, the Tories decided on a war of attrition, they would force the House to sit so long and so late that the Government would be exhausted. Seventeen Labour MPs lost their lives, probably from stress. The play ends in May 1979 when Thatcher was elected saying “There is no such thing as society”. This is the story of how decency died.

Here is superb writing and exciting, energised acting with some great comic timing. It’s fast-paced, edge of seat stuff. I felt I was seeing real events as they happened. Plaudits to the entire cast but particularly Martin Marquez, James Gaddas, Tony Turner, David Hounslow and Natalie Grady as the Labour whips, Bob Mellish, Water Harrison, Michael Cocks, Joe Harper and Ann Taylor and to William Chubb, Matthew Pidgeon and Giles Cooper as Tory Whips, Humphrey Atkins, Jack Weatherill and Fred Silvester.

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This is a history play of Shakespearian stature, immaculately presented. Unmissable and unforgettable. A lesson for the learning.

This House is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, March 17.