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This House - National Theatre Live

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by John Andrew (subscribe)
I enjoy "fine dining", presenting programs on radios 4MBS, MBS Light and 4RPH and going to drama and music at Brisbane theatres.
Event:
"Yes Minister" with teeth and temperament
We are very lucky to be given the chance these days to watch top London theatrical productions on the big screen. And the National Theatre's production of "This House" was an experience to be treasured. For many people watching it, many of the events might have been history. For this reviewer, who was in the UK from 1974 to 1979, it brought back memories, albeit with a fascinating twist.



Edward Heath has bitten the dust, and Harold Wilson's attempt to do better than a minority government by calling a shock election has brought yet another minority government, only surviving through volatile and shifting alliances with "odds and sods" the Welsh, the Northern Irish, the Scottish and the Liberals.

Add double-digit inflation, industrial discord, and the feeling that the glory days had departed from Britain, and we have the gloomy back-cloth for the puppet-play of parliament.

Yet, unlike most parliamentary dramas, we do not meet the high-profile parliamentary protagonists Jim Callaghan, say, or Harold Wilson or Margaret Thatcher. Instead we are flies on the wall, watching the machinations of the government whips as they struggle for survival and supremacy.

James Graham has done his research thoroughly, and convinces us that we are seeing what it must really have been like, as "pairing" is abandoned, ministers are helicoptered in and the sick and the dying struggle into the house to vote. The stress leads to an unprecedented number of deaths of members of parliament. With heavy symbolism, Big Ben the clock that ticked on indomitably through two world wars, falls silent.

John Stonehouse MP fakes his own death, is discovered to be in Australia, and is dragged back to the UK to vote. And from day to day the whips deal with events as they unfold supreme pragmatists doing what it takes to keep a majority or to undermine it.

Events come to a head with a "no confidence" motion where one vote will make the difference between the government surviving or falling. Will the Tory whip allow a "pairing" with a terminally ill Labour member, or will the Labour whip drag him in, and risk hastening his death?

Both whips give stellar performances. Philip Glenister is a rough diamond with a soft centre and Charles Edwards, his Tory alter ego, shows that under his Saville Row suited pragmatism is a person of courageous integrity.

Graham's trenchant analysis shows the Tories moving from the control of born to rule "Aristo-prats" to that of a ruthless Hayek-minded meritocracy soon to be ruled by Thatcher, and we also see Labour's recruitment of fewer miners and more barristers soon to succumb to the bling of Blair.

The simple set works well, skilful lighting allowing us to morph between the floor of the house, and the rooms of the rival whips. Above all of this, seen from behind, is the iconic clock face of Big Ben.

Three hours long, Graham's script never flags, and suspense, dark humour, and the ongoing plotting, cajoling and bullying keep us totally engaged.

This play is superb theatre.
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Why? Watch top London theatrical productions on the big screen.
Where: Dendy,Portside , Centro New Farm
Cost: $25
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