What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than to be reminded that everything you find most irritating about modern British politics has happened – almost blow for blow – once before in the 70s. This House is a very funny and surprisingly moving account of the failing Labour government that scraped through four years of deal-making, coalitions, and minority rule, only to ultimately be defeated by Margaret Thatcher. The play, however, never touches on the actual leaders of the parties, instead focusing on the whips and the "usual channels", the gentlemen's agreements that keep British democracy ticking over.
In that sense, it's a fascinating insight into the romantic insanities of our democracy. Little things like the concept of pairing, where an MP from one party sits out of a vote if a corresponding MP from the opposition party cannot physically make it to the House, are used to great effect. The idea that such a system is entirely run as an honour code – and has been for centuries – is the definition of nuts. What's more, it means that when the Conservative party refuses to continue upholding that tradition (admittedly in response to Labour slightly reneging on the deal themselves) the sudden increased stress on an already stretched ruling party literally puts MPs in an early grave. I think the final count was 15 dead during that single, partial term. It's frankly incredible they were even able to hold on as long as they did, and that's kind of the point.
It was a ridiculous period of British history. You had MPs faking their own death to avoid fraud charges, others getting into serious trouble for waving ceremonial staffs around in the middle of a fistfight in the Commons, deals done to secure fringe votes that would ultimately lead to Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish devolution (even if it would take another four governments to pass through before those deals were made good), a vote on the EU, and the Lib Dems getting into a position of shared power for the first time in (I believe) history. It does sound an awful lot like the 2010s, doesn't it.
The fact that there are so many parallels between this ridiculous and – particularly with the benefit of hindsight and some excellent script writing – quite humorous period of British politics and our modern times only serves to highlight the importance of the underlying messages. It's hardly a bipartisan play in that regard; it clearly takes swings at New Labour, the two-party system, the need for voter reform, and the fact that the Conservatives always look out for themselves over the country. You might have guessed it, but I quite enjoyed its political satire and commentary; it's quite up my street.
The result is an enthralling and quite funny play. The actors were all brilliant, the music and sets ridiculously over the top (and they worked well for it), and the plot incredibly well-paced. It's a very modern play and an exceptionally clever skewering of modern political discourse, highlighting both the beauty and failings of our woefully ancient system within a 21st Century context. Above all else, it shows you how the best intentions in the world are quickly undermined by the part system and yet can only ever be served by that very party system. In other words, it's largely fair in its criticisms and even-handed with the blame. I'd certainly recommend it if you ever get the chance.