The working of British democracy relies on an archaic set of gentlemen’s rules, etiquette and traditions- with not so much of a scrap of it written down. So James Graham’s play that commits these oddities to paper reveals the comical, ridiculous, hypocrisy of it all.
We are propelled into the centre of Wilson’s minority government (1974-1979), and smoothly land in the comfy executive seats of the Labour whips office. The dialectal-expletive-spurting Labour-lot spar with the straight-backed, refined conservative whips. Both work to control the chamber; courting the “the odds and sods” (minor parties) and dragging in their MPs, whether wounded or drunk, by any means necessary.
When the play becomes less chaotic and more stagnant – depicted in the grinding halt of Big Ben- the desperation of the situation turns morbid; something more resonant to audiences now, post Thatcher’s funeral. Director Jeremy Herrin does well to measure these temporal changes with an array of performances that are able to penetrate the nuances of Graham’s work.
Rae Smith’s shrewd design lets the audience seating overflow onto the stage and into the Common-style benches found in Westminster. It explores Politics as being theatrical in nature. It further implies the role for the public spectator in both. We are able to modify our Government and we can equally modify the play itself. It was only recent audiences who reacted with cold indignantion at the cheery mention of Ken Barlow, or sensed the chilling irony of Thatcher’s successor speech. This type of change made the work feel relevant and contemporary that was far more poignant that the obvious parallels with our own weary political condition. It just goes to show that in theatre, just like in politics, you never know what will make tomorrow’s news.
The National Theatre until May 16th 2013 with National Theatre Live on May 16th 2013