This House by James Graham and Joy by Jonathan Lee

Still from performance of This HouseFor those of us who don’t live in London the National Theatre’s link up with the Picturehouse cinema group is a godsend. Last night we went to see the much lauded This House, partly in the line of duty for H but also for some stonking entertainment. The play opens in 1974. Edward Heath has called a snap election, Parliament is now hung with Labour having the thinnest of majorities and so a coalition of sorts must be formed – is this ringing any bells? It’s set in the whips’ office of both parties so that we’re privy to the constant slipping and sliding of the coalition, and the increasingly desperate measures taken by Labour to cling to power. It’s a remarkable piece of work, totally gripping from its start to its poignant end in 1979 when the Conservative motion of no confidence in the government is won by a single vote and, well, you know the rest. A superb performance, made all the more interesting by the intermission chat with Ann Taylor, now Baroness Taylor of Bolton, Labour’s sole female whip at the time who proved herself to be anything but token. Apparently, the play has been hugely popular amongst politicians of all persuasions. Can’t wait to see what James Graham goes on to write next.

It felt slightly odd to be plunged into the world of rotary dial telephones and kipper ties after spending all day immersed in Jonathan Lee’s Joy where everyone has a Blackberry, a personal trainer and Marc Jacobs handbags are de rigueur. Don’t be deceived by the novel’s title: this sharp satire has very little to do withCover image happiness. Joy is the deeply ironic name of its main character, a beautiful, successful young corporate lawyer who has fallen to the pavement from the balcony of her City office and lies in a coma. From the off, hints are dropped that Joy plans to kill herself the following day and as that day progresses it’s clear that there are many reasons other than her husband’s sexual peccadilloes and their flagging sex life for her unhappiness. Her job is relentless in its demands and pointless in its purpose, her colleagues are self absorbed, she has had an affair with her best friend’s husband but the hardest to bear is the disappearance of her five-year-old nephew on a trip to Wimbledon while in Joy’s care five years ago. Lee expertly unfolds his narrative, leading his readers up cul-de-sacs only to reveal their purpose several chapters later. We learn about those who seem to think they knew Joy in their sessions with a counsellor which alternate with her own account. It’s a structure that could easily have backfired but Lee handles it deftly so that each narrative throws light on the other, allowing characters to reveal themselves rather than relying on clunky descriptions. There’s a good deal of black humour in their self revelations and the novel is peppered with nicely comic throwaway remarks. The whole coheres beautifully, leading readers entertainingly to the novel’s shocking and sobering conclusion. Highly recommended, and out in paperback in the first week of June.

 

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