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
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 their performances.
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 populace.
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 else
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?'
Alex 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
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
And as I said, that may be enough.
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