Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings argue with piercing precision in this fierce war of words – ★★★★
Political confrontation alone is not enough for theatre, as something we have already seen a lot of away from the comfort of the Lyttelton. The best arguments on stage are erudite and transcendental, and as the discussion around LGBT education in schools continues, Simon Woods’ exploration of the issue in Hansard is incisive and thorough.
Tory MP Robin Hesketh (Jennings) has only just got through the door of his Cotswolds home when his wife Diana (Duncan) launches a sudden offensive. Jennings certainly channels a perfectionist old Etonian, rarely sitting still as he strolls around Hildegard Bechtler’s idyllic household. Much like today’s politicians, Robin is reserved in his dialogue, with only a small amount of emotion behind his it as he responds to Diana’s critique. His eagerness to perform diagnostics on his wife’s frustrations tapping into the typical political pragmatism. The MP’s approach to the fight is elaborate and pensive, but lacks any particular bite until secrets are revealed.
With quick witticisms becoming the central form of comedy for the couple, the laughs are relatively short-lived, at times blending into the monotonous negativity underneath the narrative. Like with any political debate, overt and on-the-nose pessimism and ad hominem can only be endured for so long. Diana’s line about the “the insatiable desire of the people of this country to be fucked by an Old Etonian” is one commonly cited by fellow critics in reviews and received a positive reaction from the crowd on the night. It taps into current public cynicism, but it’s humour that is weak and at times predictable – jokes about Labour frontbenchers resembling geography teachers being a cheap go-to gag.
For a script so abrupt and confrontational in nature, its subtleties throughout are the most intriguing. A discreet contradiction in Robin’s views is particularly intelligent. The MP first complains about how we can’t tell children to “do whatever we want”, before later deploying a bike-riding analogy about Tory encouragement. When the pair decide to make a Bloody Mary, it’s Diana who’s slicing the lemons – a small and likely deliberate directorial decision from Simon Godwin to reflect the wife’s bitterness.
The aforementioned climax is bruising to both characters’ positions. Diana’s confidence from her tirade shatters, and Robin’s self-righteousness and ideology falters. The revelation itself is striking, but its conclusion cuts short a cruel conflict with little sense of closure.
Hansard is now playing at the Lyttelton Theatre until 25 November, with an NT Live broadcast on the 7 November.
Production Images: Catherine Ashmore.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch Hansard for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I was asked to mention the NT Live broadcast, I did not receive payment for this review. All opinions stated are honest and my own.