Preview: This House, an hilarious take on the hung Parliament of 1974 comes to Cambridge Arts Theatre

PUBLISHED: 10:38 12 February 2018 | UPDATED: 12:01 12 February 2018

James Graham, author of This House

James Graham, author of This House

Archant

When writer James Graham first offered National Theatre director Jeremy Herrin a play set in Parliament, Herrin said: “Have you got anything else?”

This House in rehearsal This House in rehearsal

That was back in 2012. The hilarious and fast-moving play sold out at the National, went on to become a West End hit and has just started a tour, arriving at Cambridge Arts Theatre from March 13-17.

The play examines the hung Parliament of 1974-79 when Labour got in by just four seats. The story is told through the whips’ offices with the Tories on one side of the stage and Labour on the other. The parties were drawn much more along class lines in those days and one of the joys of the play, which is extremely funny, is the writer, Graham’s remarkable ear for the way people speak and the phrases they use.

This is a lively piece with choreography and a band on stage playing music including two David Bowie songs. The set is the chamber of the House of Commons. In some venues, there will be a Commons bar on stage where the audience can drink in the interval.

When the play was in London, MPs went along in groups to see how much they were in it. Michael Heseltine (famous in the 1970s for picking up the Mace and waving it – his nickname was Tarzan) saw it twice. The Honourable Members felt quite at home, Herrin remembers. “They walked around as if they owned the place, drank in the on-stage bar and had to be reminded that they needed to leave it so the second half of the play could begin.”

As cast member Marcus Hutton says, the 1970s was an era of social equality never seen before or since. There was new legislation on divorce, gay rights, women’s rights, equal pay – and crucially property was still cheap, wages were rising and the NHS was still in tact.

But politically it was also a period of chaos. There were fist-fights in Parliamentary bars, and Olympic level political trickery. MPs were carried in on stretchers because a government could fall without their votes.

Herrin says the play is accessible to those who remember the 1970s and those who don’t. A cast of 21 actors play 66 characters. “By the end of it, the audience feel like they are experts.”

This House is at Cambridge Arts Theatre from Tuesday, March 13 to Saturday, March 17 at 7.45pm with Thursday and Saturday matinees 2.30pm. Tickets, 01223 503333 or Cambridgeartstheatre.com.

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