This House – Touring – Review

(4 / 5)

See my review on the YouTube channel One Minute Theatre Reviews

Promotional photo for This House at Chichester Festival Theatre showing Steffan Rhodri and Nathaniel Parker. Photo by Johan Persson
Steffan Rhodri and Nathaniel Parker in This House at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

I would never have thought day-to-day politics could be so tense. This House, which I saw at Chichester Festival Theatre’s Minerva is set in the 1970s when Labour was running minority governments and ends at the moment the Tories returned to power. But it’s not about Wilson, Callaghan or Thatcher. The play is set in the Whips’ Offices, the people who organise their party members’ voting.

These are dramatic times as Labour struggles to maintain its majority and govern, a situation not dissimilar to Theresa May’s government. The tension mounts when ‘pairing’ is suspended. This is the agreement whereby members absent through government business or illness have their missing vote cancelled by someone from the opposition not voting. To go behind the scenes and see that our democracy can only work by co-operation and compromise is an eye-opener.

Phil Daniels & Steffan Rhodri in This House at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson
Phil Daniels & Steffan Rhodri in This House at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

Many people- some of the Brexit voters and Trump supporters, for example- seem to be rebelling against the perceived cosiness of the establishment. James Graham, author of This House, shows that there is a purpose to this comity. We have only to look across the Atlantic to see how the extreme differences between Republicans and Democrats have brought government to a halt after decades of working together.

Politicians Are People

But more than the drama and the lesson in democracy, This House reveals the real people behind the parliamentary constituencies. Plays need characters and This House is packed with flawed human beings with feelings. They are sometimes bullies, sometimes desperate and, most movingly, they can be compassionate. We see that in many cases these are people who care passionately but still respect their opponents and act honourably.

Politicians often try to show their human side in PR exercises- a pint down the pub or an appearance on Have I Got News For You– but This House  does a far better job at showing they are as funny, sad, triumphant and tragic as the rest of us.

This House is touring to West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (23 February – 10 March 2018), Cambridge Arts Theatre (12 – 17 March 2018), Theatre Royal Bath (19 – 24 March 2018), Edinburgh Festival Theatre (27 – 31 March 2018), Nottingham Theatre Royal (10 – 14 April 2018), Birmingham Repertory Theatre (16 – 21 April 2018), The Lowry, Salford (24 – 28 April 2018), Theatre Royal, Plymouth (1 – 5 May 2018), Norwich Theatre Royal (7 – 12 May 2018),
Malvern Theatres (14 – 19 May 2018), Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford (21 – 26 May 2018), Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield (29 May – 2 June 2018).

Here’s my review on YouTube

Nativity! The Musical on tour

(5 / 5)

Nativity! The Musical- the birth of a Christmas tradition 

See my YouTube review on One Minute Theatre Reviews

Production photo from Nativity The Musical showing Simon Lipkin, Daniel Boys and children
Nativity! The Musical with Simon Lipkin, Daniel Boys and children
Photo Credit: The Other Richard

Nativity! is already one of the nation’s favourite Christmas films, now Nativity! The Musical is destined to become a fixture on theatres’ advent calendars for many years to come.

For this, we have to thank writer and director Debbie Isitt. She did the same jobs on the Nativity films but, before she went into moviemaking, she was a renowned theatre writer and director. And it shows. Ms Isitt knows what works on stage.

So she has taken all the elements that made her film such a hit: the story of the disadvantaged schoolchildren attempting to put on a five star nativity show against all the odds, the memorable characters, the upbeat songs like Sparkle And Shine and Nazareth. Then she’s added many more songs (co-written with Nicky Ager) and some scenes that are pure theatre, such as a satirical number about Hollywood and the nativity show itself,  and turned it all into perfect theatrical entertainment.

You smile all the way through and come out beaming like a red nosed reindeer.

Debbie Isitt knows how to create a hit

This touring production, which I saw at Leeds Grand Theatre, is also blessed with an excellent cast. Simon Lipkin is very funny as the wildly enthusiastic man-child Mr Poppy. Daniel Boys as Mr Maddens finds the same combination of inner sadness, quiet determination and basic niceness that Martin Freeman found before him.

And the children, on whom the show stands or falls, are disciplined, well rehearsed and a total delight- the icing on the Christmas cake.

A bit of sentimental light entertainment is just what you need in the deep midwinter but there’s more to Nativity! The Musical than that. It has something to say about the importance of inspirational teachers, it captures the spirit of Christmas and it’s faultless theatre. Only a Scrooge wouldn’t love it.

In 2018, Nativity! The Musical tours to Coventry Belgrade (23-28 October), Liverpool Empire (31 October – 4 November), Glasgow King’s (7-11 November), Milton Keynes Theatre (14-18 November), Nottingham Theatre Royal (21-25 November), Edinburgh Festival Theatre (28 November-2 December), Oxford New Theatre (11-15 December) and London Apollo Hammersmith (19-31 December).

Here’s my YouTube review-