Simon Woods’ debut work, Hansard, depicts the domestic lives of Conservative MP, Robin Hesketh (Alex Jennings), and his long-suffering wife, Diana (Lindsay Duncan). Set in 1988 – the height of Thatcher’s Britain – the left-wing liberal Diana argues with her husband about the Tory government’s most polarising piece of legislation: Clause 28 of the Local Government Act, which restrictes local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality. The play’s climax reveals the bickering pair’s son had committed suicide years earlier due his own homosexuality.
Despite the setting of 1988, the play strikes a chord with audiences today, depicting Diana’s disapproval of the years of Tory government due to, in her words, “the insatiable desire of the people of this country to be f**ked by an Old Etonian.” As well as Robin’s quip about Labour Party leaders that look like “Geography teachers”, showing how history is essentially repeating itself.
Both Jennings and Duncan prove why they boast five Olivier Awards and a Tony Award between them, providing exceptional performances. The pair remain on stage for virtually the whole 90-minute production in constant dialogue with each other, and by the end have descended into tears. The sheer stamina of the pair must be commended.
Duncan’s performance is everything you could hope for of the disillusioned wife of a politician: a cynical, lover of a gin, who lacks a filter. Her total disdain for all of her husband’s party’s policies is comedic, but transcends into bitter sadness at the end, as she blames herself for her son’s death.
Jennings too gives a brilliant performance, with his attempts to defend Mrs Thatcher’s policies and complaints about his wife’s love of literature and the theatre. He too ends the play in complete sadness, also blaming himself for the death of his son.
Praise must also be given to the play’s designer, Hildegard Bechtler, for her creation of what is essentially a cross-section of a house on the stage. Most of the action takes place in the kitchen and living room, but the set continues back to show the pantry and the hall, which provides the show with an excellent depth.
Ultimately, Hansard, is a play that epitomises its time, providing a final message that, despite our divisions- Tory or Labour, Leave or Remain – we all have something that unifies us: the capacity to feel emotions. Sod the election, go to see Hansard instead.
Featured Image: National Theatre