Another great broadcast from National Theatre Live! This play about the wheeling and dealing and fighting in the Whips’ offices in the British Parliament from 1974 to 1979 was absolutely riveting. Normally what happens in the Whip’s office stays there, but the author, who was not even born when these events happened managed to get the people who lived through them to open up and talk about what went on. James Graham, who looks about 11 (only a small exaggeration) was interviewed at the intermission by Emma Freud, along with one of the real characters, Ann Taylor who was a member of the Labour Whip’s office and is now Baroness Taylor. Graham for some reason found himself fascinated by this period in history where Britain had a Labour government, struggling to remain in power, dealing with the machinations needed to govern in a hung parliament situation. The play is not about the issues. It is about how parliament works at the most basic levels, where parliamentarians are paired so individuals can miss sessions to travel or when ill, and what happens when these deals are no longer available. The stress was incredible – 17 politicians died during the sessions – and eventually the government fell. Maggie Thatcher and the Tories took over and we all know the rest. It was interesting that Maggie was a character in the play who never appeared on stage. She was a key player; she took over the leadership at this period; she is referred to, but she is not the focus.
The cast included so many familiar faces, but not familiar names. If we lived in England, we would know Phil Daniels, David Hounslow, Lauren O’Neil, Julian Wadham, Charles Edwards and the rest. As it is, we just recognize he faces we have seen so often in British television dramas.
The one to watch for is the author – James Graham. If he can create a drama this powerful at age 33, who knows what the rest of his career will bring.
As it is, the one to watch for is the author – James Graham. If he can write such an outstanding drama at 33, who knows what he will do in future?