Hansard Is Political Bickering At Its Best

Hansard, National Theatre Lyttleton ★★★★☆

By Johnny Fox Last edited 39 months ago

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Hansard Is Political Bickering At Its Best Hansard, National Theatre Lyttleton 4
Photo: Catherine Ashmore

In a week when the current House of Commons mutated into a brawling ball pit for sugar-enraged toddlers, it was almost calming to see the elegant 80's Tory grandee and his left-wing Aga-fiddling wife bicker in the thoroughly excellent Hansard at the National.

Alex Jennings' suave, patronising, possibly philandering backbencher Robin in the third Thatcher government is a deadly accurate page torn from the Alan Clark Diaries, polishing his patient passive aggression until his wife becomes enraged.

Nobody does sidelined corporate or political wives with the crafted precision of Lindsay Duncan, she has furnished some of her finest performances on both stage and television. As Diana, she floats through her Cotswold kitchen in a silken nightdress and a haze of gin.

Photo: Catherine Ashmore

There's an easy early barb about people voting Conservative because they'd like to be f*cked by an old Etonian that understandably brought the house down. However Simon Woods' script is equally sharp about Kinnock's Labour front bench — quoting the dysfunctional Tories who look across the House at the ramshackle opposition and 'can't believe our luck'.

Jennings and Duncan spar with deliciously precise language, and score each other on the accuracy and elegance of their barbs. When it hits home, the dialogue crackles like Noel Coward's Private Lives, another play about a couple who may love each other but can't live together. As Woods' first play, it is an astonishingly confident debut.

The crux of their argument is around Section 28, the notorious clause which restricted local authorities' ability to promote homosexuality as an equal lifestyle choice. Again, the timing couldn't be sharper as rival groups argue over the content and age for sex education in state schools.

The reasons for Diana and Robin's opposing viewpoints only become fully clear in the final minutes of the play. It would be braver for Woods to bring these truths out slightly earlier, to allow both for more audience understanding, and perhaps the characters' resolution.

But as with the real stuff, it's easier to ignore the politics, and enjoy the theatre.

Hansard, National Theatre Lyttleton, Upper Ground, SE1 9PX, £15-£89. Until 25 November

Last Updated 10 September 2019