Tag Archives: Jeremy Herrin

Labour in Vain

THIS HOUSE

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 17th April, 2018

 

This hit production from the National Theatre/Chichester Festival Theatre/Headlong comes to this town and reminds this reviewer of its brilliance.  James Graham’s script, dealing with the behind-the-scenes, Machiavellian machinations of the Chief Whips of both main parties, mines a rich seam of humour.  It is the 1970s and Labour has a minority government.  All the stops have to be pulled out to win over the ‘odds and sods’ to vote on the government’s side.

It’s a macho – or rather, blokeish world of hard drinking, hard swearing immaturity, where tradition is held in awe but nothing more so than the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’.  The opposing sides wind each other up, one-upmanship is king and fair play hardly gets a look-in.  It’s a chess game on a massive scale, with the Chief Whips sniping at each other like rival head prefects.

Martin Marquez is excellent as tough-talking Labour whip, Bob Mellish, with William Chubb’s Humphrey Atkins as the perfect sneering foil over on the Tory side.  Graham characterises both sides in broad terms: the Labour lot are beer-swilling, down-to-earth working class men with ‘real jobs’ in their backgrounds; the Tories are privileged, entitled snobs.  Tony Turner’s Michael Cox remains decent in his desperation, while on the other side, Harry Kershaw’s member for Chelmsford makes a prissy and hilarious impression.  There is a running joke about apologising for swearing in front of that rare creature, a female MP – Natalie Grady’s Ann Taylor soon proves she can give as good as she gets, and there is a delicious turn from Louise Ludgate as the member for Coventry South West, silently doling out the cash to pay a fine.

Labour’s Walter Harrison (James Gaddas) and his oppo Jack Weatherill (Matthew Pidgeon) share a mutual if grudging respect for each other and each other’s methods in a relationship that encapsulates the cut-and-thrust of party politics at that time.  Meanwhile, off-stage, rises the spectre of evil that will poison politics for decades, like Voldemort gradually taking physical form, as the member for Finchley, unseen, climbs the ranks to Tory party leader, ultimately becoming prime minister.  As the lights fade, an extract from Thatcher’s inaugural speech brings the fun and games to a chilling end…

Director Jeremy Herrin maintains a cracking pace, keeping the barbed remarks and the fur flying, eliciting energetic performances from his ensemble.  A live band keeps the energy levels up, with short and long bursts to cover transitions or to underscore the more stylised sequences depicting the arcane rituals of the House.

It’s a hilarious piece, a satirical cartoon of a show recounting a remarkable time in British politics, but be aware: the current mob who occupy This House for real are not playing for laughs.

THIS HOUSE

Best of frenemies: James Gaddas and Matthew Pidgeon (Photo: Johan Persson)

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Tudor Looking Glass

WOLF HALL

The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 28th January, 2014

 

When I heard the RSC were adapting Hilary Mantel’s novels of doorstep proportion, I wondered if they had bitten off more than they could Tudor, but then I saw that it was Mike Poulton who was doing the adapting – he gave us a very enjoyable Canterbury Tales several years ago – so I knew we were in safe hands.

The first instalment covers much the same ground as Shakespeare’s very late play Henry VIII (or the first series of gaudy TV drama The Tudors).  There is a sense of knowing, even foreboding about the enterprise; we know on whose side history’s favours will fall so there is plenty of nudge nudge wink wink dramatic irony at play.

It is also very funny.  There is wryness to the dialogue and the characters are on the whole plain-speaking.  We do not have to wade through dense verse or po-faced metaphor.  The action is immediately accessible and with a three-hours running time, it needs to be!

Central to it all is Thomas Cromwell, a kind of go-to guy par excellence.  His colourful past has given him the skills necessary to get just about anything done.  And so he climbs the precarious ladder of Henry’s court.  When we first meet him he is in the employ of the infamous Cardinal Wolsey (usually depicted as more of an out-and-out villain in this type of thing).  Paul Jesson is very funny as this worldly clergyman.  By contrast, John Ramm’s Thomas More is shown less warmly, very different from the admirable and unswerving man of principle in Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons.

The whole cast is very strong but I’m going to be churlish and single out a few for special mentions.  Daniel Fraser is sweet as Cromwell’s son Gregory, playing youth and innocence convincingly despite his full-grown adult frame.  Pierro Niel Mee is bloody hilarious as Cromwell’s rat-catching French servant Christophe, and Nathaniel Parker is effortlessly majestic and charismatic as King Henry.  I also enjoyed Oscar Pearce’s bejewelled fop George Boleyn and Lucy Briers’s Hispanic intensity as Katherine of Aragon.

The costumes are perfect, conveying the period in lieu of scenery and there is atmospheric music from composer Stephen Warbeck.

Cromwell hardly leaves the stage, which means we get to see his public, at-work face and his private grief, in an excellent turn by Ben Miles.  Jeremy Herrin’s direction keeps the action moving.  Cromwell only has to turn on his heels and the scene has changed, and there are some lovely touches and understated moments.

The show ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, compelling you to come back for the sequel.  And I most definitely shall!

WFH-0666-1

He’s ‘Enery the Eighth he is, he is – Nathaniel Parker (Photo: Keith Pattison)