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Hansard review – National Theatre (Lyttelton)

While Boris Johnson was facing a crucial vote in parliament on Tuesday night, the National Theatre was staging a political drama every bit as gripping.

Simon Woods’ debut play unfolds in real time in the spacious Oxfordshire home of Conservative MP Robin Hesketh and his wife Diana on a specific Saturday in May 1988.

Robin (Alex Jennings) arrives home after a week away on parliamentary business to find his beloved lawn ravaged by foxes and Diana (Lindsay Duncan) in her dressing gown and in a combative mood.

What initially appears to be loving banter between the couple turns into a sustained bout of verbal jousting fuelled by Diana’s suspicions that her husband is having an affair and her fierce opposition to his support for the Thatcher government’s introduction of the anti-gay law Section 28.

Hansard  National Theatre
Lindsay Duncan as Diana Hesketh in Hansard (photo by Catherine Ashmore)

Although set during the late 80s (there are references to Princess Diana, Aids and the lesbians who invaded the BBC Six O’Clock News while it was being presented by Sue Lawley), Woods has one eye firmly fixed on contemporary times.

Diana, who mockingly describes herself as a “frightful left wing woman”, often sounds like she’s just stepped out of a Tardis from 2019. At one point she even makes a barbed allusion to “man-splaining”. During another exchange, Robin utters the line: “In 20 years’ time you won’t be allowed to be a white heterosexual male.”

They make an unlikely and often unlikable couple. There are times when you do wonder how they have ended up staying together. The reasons become more clear in the play’s final minutes. What started out as a wordy, witty comedy drama turns into something very different.

Hansard  National Theatre
Alex Jennings as Robin Hesketh in Hansard (photo by Catherine Ashmore)

As the only two on stage, Duncan and Jennings give awards-worthy performances. Director Simon Godwin ensures there is never a static moment during the political and personal dog-fighting. The ending, when a deeper layer of meaning behind the play’s title is revealed, is beautifully handled.

All eyes might be on the House of Commons these days, but here’s a fascinating drama just across the river that’s keen to win your vote.

Hansard is at the Lyttelton Theatre until 25 November and will be broadcast live into over 700 UK cinemas on 7 November

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