Tag Archives: Martin Marquez

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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Party Piece

ABIGAIL’S PARTY

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Tuesday 15th January, 2013

Originally a contemporary play about the emerging lower middle class in the 1970s, Mike Leigh’s comedy is now very much a period piece.  Mike Britton’s set evokes nostalgia for the bad taste of that bygone age – it is a symphony in brown and dark orange.   Contrasting with this is lady of the house, Beverly (Hannah Waterman) in an emerald green evening gown and luxuriant blonde hair.  She gyrates to Donna Summer as she waits for her guests to arrive.  Husband Laurence (Martin Marquez) comes home from work but has not finished for the day.  Already tensions are simmering; we get the feeling the evening will not go well.

New neighbours Angela and Tony arrive and the overbearing, ignorant Beverly holds court in this excruciating but funny comedy of manners.  It is a tour de force by Hannah Waterman yet the other characters are also allowed to come to the fore.  Katie Lightfoot’s Angela is an enthusiastic guest but clearly under the thumb of her monosyllabic brute of a husband (Samuel James, speaking volumes with each ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.)  Angela hints at the domestic abuse she endures long before tempers are lost.  It is this dark undercurrent that grounds the characters in reality.  Their masks of sociability, their public faces, are inefficient at covering what is really going on.

The fifth member of this painful soiree is Susan (Emily Raybould) exiled from her own home by the titular party, thrown by her teenage daughter.  Susan is bullied relentlessly by Beverly into accepting drink after drink and cocktail snack after cocktail snack until she literally cannot stomach any more.  She represents the established middle class, already affected by the growing divorce rate; she now has her liberal values tested by this influx of new people.  Emily Raybould is pitch perfect as the put-upon Susan, pushed to her limit.

Martin Marquez in his three-piece suit and porn-star moustache is wonderful as the hard-working estate agent, striving to keep Beverley in the manner to which she has become accustomed.  He is the sacrificial lamb on the altar of materialism, a forerunner of what was to become prevalent in the decade that followed.

This touring production shows that the play still works perfectly and deserves its status as a classic.  Not just a look back at the decade of bad taste, the play captures the agonies of small talk and the discomfort of social gatherings, affording the audience to indulge in a spot of people-watching from a safe distance.

It’s funny because it has a ring of truth.

abigail