The Theatreguide.London Review
Lyttelton Theatre Autumn 2019
Hansard is a not very
good play that is a good vehicle for two very good actors. And that
might be enough.
Lindsay Duncan and Alex
Jennings are actors who
particularly project intelligence and strength of character, and what
empathy we develop for the characters they play comes largely through
Simon Woods sets his
drama in 1988 in the home of
a Tory Cabinet Minister and his wife. Evidently not on the best of
terms, they bicker and squabble, sometimes quite wittily and with a
hard-to-hide enjoyment of the game.
(I might as well pause here to note that Hansard will repeatedly remind you of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, not just in the bickering but in using the language of games-playing and point-scoring, and in the gradual revelation of a not-to-be-spoken-of family secret about a son. Woods does not wear his debt lightly, and with Hansard by far the weaker play, the reminders of Albee do not work to its benefit.)
Part of the
fighting is political. He supports and defends Thatcher while she
sees the Tories as a Public School cabal driven by disdain for the
In particular they clash
over Section 28 (the law
forbidding sympathetic treatment, or indeed mention, of homosexuality
in schools), telegraphing long in advance what the big reveal of the
ending is going to be.
Still, along the way
there is considerable wit
– he dismisses the Labour front bench as 'a procession of badly
dressed geography teachers' while she ably tops his insult 'I thought
you didn't drink when I wasn't here' with 'Sometimes the thought of
you is enough.'
And even the political
debate has its moments, Woods
giving the husband the most convincing analysis and defence of
Margaret Thatcher I've ever encountered (As a not especially
brilliant grammar school girl she had to swot her way through Oxford
and up the political ladder and felt that if she could do it everyone
But when the couple
finally get down to their purely
personal tragedy, it doesn't resonate outwards as the one in Albee's
play does. Instead it reduces the play, running the risk of
generating the response 'Is this all that all this was about?'
Jennings and Lindsay Duncan quickly convince us that this is a couple
for whom years of experience have given even the bitterest thrusts
and parries a familiar and almost ritual character. And both subtly
allow the brittle masks of games-players to slip and eventually
crumble as the play's progression requires.
Even if you don't fully
believe either the hiding of raw feelings or their eventual exposure,
you will admire the skill with which the actors and director Simon
Godwin present them.
And as I said, that may be enough.
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