This House – a very personal despair

I have three personal rules: Only walk out of a show that I have bought a ticket for, try not to read reviews of a show I am going to see before seeing it, and (because I am not a critic) only do a negative blog for a show which is safe and immune from anything I may write.  Usually stick to the first, hopefully stick to the second and third.
So tonight I am home shortly after the interval of This House having paid for my ticket, not read reviews, but feel confident in the stars, transfers and raves to feel my own commentary will do it no harm.

Despite fine writing, fine performances, innovative staging, I could not wait to get out of the theatre at the interval. I found the piece completely dispiriting.  Now I don’t know whether, if I had seen it in 2012 I would have felt differently.  But here I was watching the style of archaic, combative, misogynistic, blinkered, self-serving power politics which have helped to bring this country and the USA to a terrifying position of ungovernability which we are living through today.
I felt saddened to be British. Saddened to know people who are MPs and servants of the Crown working to stay within the sclerotic system of government we have at the moment. Saddened that we are taking money from punters to see a play which seems to relish the joys of the sculduggery which is perpetuating our decay.  In the words of Nick Clegg in the programme “Westminster does not look kindly to compromise: every compromise is soon branded a betrayal in a system which rewards tribal loyalty and abhors the blurring of party boundaries”.
My own dismay was at being in an establishment theatre, watching an establishment play seemingly celebrating the establishment, with an establishment audience. The most awful “echo chamber” to use the oft quoted phrase. There was even a bar at the back of the theatre where first one guy arrived with his daughter explaining to her Clause Four and then two ex politicians arrived and had a big hug and a cheer at how wonderful it was to meet again. They shared stories of their non-exec roles now.  I wanted to grab one of the banners from the march on Saturday and stuff it somewhere.
I accept that establishment theatre, for establishment audiences has its place. But I felt that a play about this time, recreated in our times, needed to scream in horror at what we have allowed to unfurl in our lifetimes. I was there 74-79. I studied by candlelight in my school during the 3 days week. I worked as a tea boy in the West End during the power cuts. I feel saddened that nothing seems to have changed.
Yesterday I was in an audience in another Nimex Theatre which felt so so different. It was a glorious mix of couples there for fun, families there for an explore, and theatrefolk there to see it all go horribly wrong. And I am delighted to say Peter Pan went horribly wrong…and I laughed myself happy.
I am pleased I saw This House – mainly because it made me want to read Destiny by David Edgar which I saw at the Aldwych in 1977 about exactly the same period. My memory was that it took sides, scared the living daylights out of the audience, and did not change the world or politics – but it tried to. Only two years later Mrs Thatcher began her cruel reign. 40 years later Johnson/Gove/Farage, their Conservative servants, and Trump have begun to complete her work.
Maybe I should have stayed for Act Two. Maybe I should have read reviews before going in, and before writing this. Maybe I should not have written this.  [ I have taken a moment to read Michael Billington to check, amongst his rave, that there was no coup-de-theatre in Act 2 that I missed…nothing mentioned]
So – why my anger, why my blog. Honestly it is a sense of powerlessness. A sense that all the money which has gone into this play, playing to a knowing audience, could have been used differently. But respecting that people I admire, work with, have taught, and champion are all involved. They do so for the right reasons of bringing fine theatre, to fine folk, in a fine theatre.
And I just needed to run away.


  1. All is not lost. Nothing has changed. Things have just revealed. It is really helpful to see.
    We all needed a boot up the backside. There is now so much good work going on from songwriters to playwrights. ‘Be the energy you want to attract’. You are

  2. Thank you for this Chris. We have a duty as theatre makers and I would love to see us being the change we want to see. Something to explore further in my own work. Thank you for the inspiration.

    Sue xx

  3. Chris, I saw the show on Friday and absolutely loved it. The Walter Harrison character in particular was one of the most lifelike and convincing performances I have ever seen on a stage (I say that though I never knew Walter). The reason it was set in 1974-79 was because that was a unique period of minority and all but minority government but it was in a different era – the inhuman use of all night sittings contributed to the death of 17 MPs in that period but it can’t happen now, since the rules were changed in 97. (They can still happen but very rarely, I only witnessed about 6 in 97-2001 and none thereafter, and never more than one at a time). The arrogance of people on both sides of the House who had virtually no relationship with their constituency has gone, thanks not least to social media. The lobby fodder concept has gone, too (pace one JC who voted with the opposition hundreds of times). The play was about passion conflicting with structure, it was about loyalty conflicting with personal survival, it was about people knowing that their cause was right (in both camps) and being prepared to go to the limit and beyond. But it was also about Whips, the silent MPs, and the insight they provided was awesome. You’ll appreciate that as one who did a 13-stretch in the Commons I may see things differently from most, but on Friday, I’m glad to say, I was in the overwhelming majority who really enjoyed a good night out – 3 hours flew by! – Tom

  4. Thank you so much Tom. I completely get your comments. I think my anger/despair was to feel I was looking back at a time when 900 people in the theatre could have been looking forward. And to sense how little has changed in the overall combative nature of two party government. Am I just naive to wish that big votes and big debates could/should be without a whip, and voting along with the views of the constituents they serve – rather than the share capital so many now seem to protect. I know you fought, and did so much in your time. I don’t think for a moment you looked at non-execs as your reward…but they do exist, and two of them were haw-hawing in the bar last night. The disarray in the Labour party with a leader who has the popular vote except he can’t lead is a mess. I have no idea how to get through that. “Passion conflicting with structure” – wow that rings true now. Sorry to sound so negative.

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