Review – Hansard, National Theatre

Friday 30 August 2019

Meet Robin and Diana. They like to argue.

Their bitter and frustrated relationship appears to be nourished by cat and mouse games as they hurl insults at each other and volley them back. In the course of their poisonous disputes long held secrets are about to be revealed. Guests are about to join them and oh, she self-medicates with alcohol.

Mmmm. Sound a little familiar? Sound a bit too Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? All a bit too George and Martha with a soupçon of George and Mildred thrown in?

Former actor (he was Mr Bingley in the Keira Knightley Pride and Prejudice) Simon Woods’ play Hansard, just about sidesteps accusations of plagiarism by squeezing in a reference to Woolf. We know he knows. It must be a homage. So that’s ok then.

Dame Julie Andrews-interviewer-in-waiting Alex Jennings, and Lyndsay Duncan play the toxic couple. It’s 1988, he’s a Thatcherite MP who has voted in favour of Clause 28 (the first and pretty much only time Phil tippy-toed round the edges of militancy – standing on a bollard screaming invective at MPs leaving the House of Commons after the vote and sharing his anger with “fellow activist” and Stonewall campaigner Pam St Clement since you asked) which attempted to ban teaching about the acceptability of homosexuality. She’s stuck in their Cotswolds’ home playing the Tory wife though is as hard left wing as he is as hard (and hardly) right. How they got beyond their initial lustful urges is difficult to imagine.

Despite excellent playing from Jennings and Duncan it’s impossible to like either of them for most of the play. The latter makes a convincing show of imperious, jaded ennui with an irritating touch of smugness. Both are as unlovable as their conspicuously unloved house (subtly clever design by Hildegard Bechtler). The only sympathy Phil had for them was for the devastation caused in their garden by foxes. Phil’s currently suffering from the same problem and has the unpleasant daily task of removing their “gifts” being left on a nightly basis. If only Phil’s foxes were theatrical metaphors too. All sensible suggestions to get rid of them are very welcome. The foxes that is, not the metaphors. But then again…

Simon Godwin’s production ends before the guests arrive so we are stuck with the couple for the whole time. However, unlike the 3 and a half hours of Albee’s play this is all over in refreshingly nippy, interval-free 90 minutes.

Phil was impressed, thrilled and nicely distracted by Duncan loading film onto the feed spool of an old film projector, threading it carefully through the gate and onto the take up spool and then successfully operating it. Riveting stuff. Jennings gets off fairly lightly by appearing to make real toast on an Aga. Phil might also have been wowed by watching him make a Bloody Mary from scratch had his celery stick-washing been as thorough as Phil’s would be. You really need to get the dirt out of those ridges Alex.

For a first play Woods displays a sure hand in constructing a viciously witty argument. Both political sides get a chance to lob their views across with both getting punctured in the process. The elite and the electorate both take some drubbing. Duncan and Jennings serve and return with Centre Court aplomb.

There’s a slightly meta gag about plays without intervals, a gasp-worthy one about the Tebbits and the inevitable heavy-handed allusions to Brexit. But when are there not? It will either reinforce your opinions (the National’s core audience) or irritate. Despite this much of it is hugely amusing. We had some problems with the final plot revelations but these cannot be discussed without revealing more than would be acceptable.

Extra comedy was injected by the overly-excited woman next to us who sprang to her feet to ovate before accidentally toppling onto us and back into her seat. This is where she remained, probably after noticing she would have been standing alone.

The play has the right formula to head to the West End. A few minor tweaks and Woods could have justifiably renamed it Who’s Afraid of Virginia Bottomley?

Rating

 

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3 Responses to “Review – Hansard, National Theatre”


  1. Not sure what Hansard has to say about this, but I’m told that human urine is good for deterring foxes. Maybe a stroll and a pee around the garden before bedtime would see off those ‘gifts’, save interrupting sleep, and you could retire the poop scoop. Tar soaked rags may work too, but the scent of dusk in an English garden may lose its charm.

  2. sandown Says:

    At one point in this play the husband snaps to his left-liberal wife: “You try being a member of Margaret Thatcher’s government and standing in the foyer of a theatre, if you want to talk about prejudice.”

    Of course, to be historically accurate, he should rather have said: “… in the foyer of a subsidised theatre.” West End audiences were great fans of the Iron Lady.

    However, one can see that might be an embarrassing topic for the taxpayer-funded National Theatre to explore.


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