Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings prove entirely watchable in Hansard, a sharp new play at the National Theatre
“It’s the great mystery of our time…the insatiable desire of the people of this country to be fucked by an Old Etonian”
Hansard opens at the National Theatre with an impeccable sense of timing. As the blinkered thinking of Brexit and the perilous threats of prorogation rock Parliament, Simon Woods’ play (his first) urges consideration of what political discourse has become and also reminds us history reflects with a coolly unblinking eye – messages you wonder whether the watching George Osborne took onboard but at all…
Set in May of 1988, Diana Hesketh and her husband of 30 odd years Robin, a Tory MP, are poiltical opposites and don’t we know it. From the opening shots to the final quiet devastation, her left-leaning sensibilities and his Thatcher-loving ways tear ever-increasing strips off each other in a manner redolent of Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf but one which also leaves you wondering how they ever made it this far.
That you believe it is down to Simon Godwin’s luscious production which stars Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings in fine, lacerating form in the bleached-out cavern of Hildegard Bechtler’s set, a swanky Cotswolds house that is no longer a home. Both actors sensitively flesh out their roles beyond the talking points (identity politics, the media, class etc) to suggest that they once were a couple who did listen to each other and who, perhaps, could do so again.
The issue du jour here, the Brexit of their time, is Section 28 and it is here that Woods doesn’t quite deliver on his promise. The intention of interrogating the personal effects of political acts arrives too late in the day to have the impact it deserves, even if Jennings’ Robin gives a good account of how someone might attempt to justify such a virulently homophobic policy. And the result is an ending that feels slightly rushed given its emotional weight. Still, an evening of high quality and thought-provoking work.