Review - Hansard at the National Theatre
There aren’t many lines being read in London right now that sum up the public consciousness quite succinctly as when Diana Hesketh sarcastically quips to her career politician husband about the “insatiable desire of the people to get f*cked by an old Etonian”.
That sums up the essence of Simon Woods debut play: Tory cabinet minister returns home to lock horns with left-wing, former-mistress wife. Diana, played by Lindsay Duncan, trades blows with Alex Jenning’s Robin for almost the entire hour-and-a-half in what is a funny but occasionally wearisome play.
The couple seems to bat the ball tirelessly to each other, looking for that sucker punch. While Diana seems to have the pick of the bunch, some of the lines seemed like recycled soundbites from the Today programme. Yes, this play is set in Thatcher’s Britain in the ‘80s, but comparing the leader of the opposition to a “Geography teacher” feels a bit tired and done.
After the right-wing husband rants about not understanding the point in the arts and theatregoers – “liberal arts people with their profound moments of epiphany” - are the worst (it’s very funny, because we’re at the theatre!), Woods’ play picks up when it finds a deeper emotional side to these characters. When he stops trying to make a point – his own moment of epiphany – then you actually become invested in these characters, and you actually care.
The final half-hour uncovers a different side to the couple, a tragic one that shifts your view of them. Diana’s obsession of bringing up the Local Government act through their sparring matches - section 28 of which was introduced to ban the promotion of homosexuality – finally comes into focus and have relevance. It goes to prove how some 30 years down the line, we’re still discussing the same issues.
Woods’ play is an entertaining if cynical look at the personal lives of a politician’s family, and the pressures that brings, but more so it’s a profile of these two nasty people scarred by their pasts. If it played on its emotional side more, and forgot about taking stabs at the Tories, it would be a better play.
Jennings and Duncan put in fine performances as the contemptuous couple, but Simon Godwin’s direction sees them pointlessly wandering around the house. There aren’t many meaningful actions alongside this conversation that makes it seem naturalistic. It would make a great radio play, while the cast’s performances are great, not a lot really happens.