James Graham’s play shows politicians as human beings
James Graham‘s play shows politicians as human beings. It’s 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 were dramatic times as Labour struggled to maintain its majority and govern. I would never have thought day-to-day politics could be quite so tense, especially 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, especially as our politics seems to be becoming more emotional, populist and confrontational.
Many people- some of the Brexit voters and Trump supporters, for example- seem to be rebelling against the perceived cosiness of the establishment. This House shows that there is a purpose to this comity. We only have 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.
But more than that, in This House we meet the real people behind the parliamentary constituencies. Plays and other forms of storytelling need characters and This House is packed with flawed human beings with feelings. They are sometimes bullies, sometimes desperate, and most movingly they show compassion. We see that in many cases these are people who care passionately about their beliefs but still respect their opponents and act honourably. Outstanding are Steffan Rhodri and Nathaniel Parker as the opposing Chief Whips
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 a play like This House shows them as flawed human beings, just like you and me.
This House started at the National Theatre and more recently performed at Chichester Festival Theatre’s Minerva where I saw it.