When politics becomes personal
Just over 30 years ago Margaret Thatcher’s government introduced the homophobic law Section 28, which stipulated that local authorities must not ‘promote homosexuality’ or promote ‘the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship’. In the 1980s schools were not often places of comfort in which to explore and understand who you were but places of conformity, in which to adhere. It is upon this backdrop that Simon Wood’s impressive debut play Hansard unfolds, Simon was himself an old Etonian, therefore, his interpretation of events hold a certain resonance. Hansard takes place in a timeless domestic setting in the Cotswolds in 1988, (think cream colour pallete, Agas, pine tables and a well-stocked drinks cabinet) which spans the breadth of the Lyttelton stage (designed by Hildegard Bechtler).
The elegant, yet disaffected Diana, played with a delicious, slightly aloof charm by Lindsay Duncan is wife to Tory MP Robin Hesketh (a wonderfully cast Alex Jennings) who portrays an entitled and misogynistic party member, spouting his beliefs with a deep-rooted admiration for Margaret (much to his wife’s disdain), whilst referring to members of the Labour Party as “a succession of badly dressed geography teachers”. Robin returns home for the weekend on his birthday, expecting a warm welcome, pots of fresh coffee, a well-stocked fridge and home cooking, but the cupboards are bare and he is greeted by a tetchy Diana wafting around in her nightwear, and most likely recovering from too many gins the night before.
What transpires is the unravelling of a tired marriage with an unspoken secret at its heart. Both parties at savage loggerheads, as they spar at each other in verbal warfare, with acerbic and at times very funny merciless quips, which get ever more vicious as the play progresses and leads us to an unexpected emotional reveal. The liberal Diana talks about “the insatiable desire of the people of this country to be fucked by an Old Etonian”. She represents women of the era who had been robbed of their careers and better selves by playing good wives and second fiddle. Diana is left with sad regrets, and a need to explore her emotional world along with the gin bottle. When she finally lays bare her guilty secret, it dramatically gives resonance to Robin’s actions and paints a powerful picture of her inability to tolerate her shame and pain. Ultimately party politics become personal as the play reaches its emotional peak.
All this unfolds in 90 dynamic minutes, Duncan and Jennings are finely matched as this bitterly dysfunctional couple, their portrait of marriage is haunted by the past, slowly and skillfully they reveal their vulnerabilities and we watch them fall, punctuated by some endearing moments and glimmers of love, which touchingly plays its role.
Simon Godwin directs Simon Wood’s stylish and affecting play with suave assurance. Hansard does what it sets out to do with a cynical dissection of the psychology of the British class system and its mindset that is especially relevant in the current climate of the Brexit debacle, whilst revealing the painful inner world of a very British marriage.
At the National’s Lyttelton Theatre until 25 November.