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 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 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 should).

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 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.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Hansard - National Theatre 2019
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