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Hansard: noun. The official report of all parliamentary debates.
This is the tagline for the National Theatre’s most recent production, Hansard, and yes, the title confused me too; at first. The play is essentially a report of the debate between the married couple the play is focussed on.
Preceding the screening, they showed a video providing the audience with a run-down of the events of the 1980s which provided valuable context for the rest of the play, including the rise of Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government; the building of the Channel Tunnel and the destruction of the mining industry. Hansard is the debut writing project of Simon Wood, who does an exceptional job of portraying the paradoxical nature of marriage, particularly in the public eye and with the difference in political opinion creating a rift.
The play revolves around a summer’s morning in 1988 and a verbal sparring match between Robin Hesketh and his wife, Diana, played by Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan. This devastating portrayal of the government class demonstrates the divisions of politics and family and how in Hansard there is a very fine line between the two. Hansard is remarkable for its exploration of a myriad of issues including Conservative attitudes, political division, family and marriage and the destruction of the British value of having a stiff upper lip.
The devastating breakdown of the couple’s conversation throughout the morning reveals this idea in its entirety as it becomes apparent that their marriage is one based on the burial of secrets, arguments and conflicts never resolved. Amidst their conversation, Diana refers to Robin’s dysfunctional family commenting on her first meeting with his family:
“Robin, there was not an elephant in the room, there was a whole herd of them.”
Although the play is peppered with comical moments such as this, an enduring theme is that these lines and quips are underpinned by a prominent theme of sadness and anger that never dissipates. It even affects the audience. You feel wrung raw after witnessing this highly emotive stripping of a couple of their protective Britishness; preventing them from facing the darkest aspects of their past. The conversation of jest is raw and painfully relatable with the ghost of issues past that only surface when it is too late or when too much time has gone by.
What begins as the typical ribbing of a long-married couple who have been disillusioned with the institution of marriage quickly turns to blood sport with the accusation of affairs, the presence of alcohol, the effect of Conservative politics and the disparity between Tory MP Robin and Labour-supporting Diana.
The important thing to remember is that Hansard is a comedy with many comments made on the state of 80s politics relevant to today – Robin jests on the choice of Labour leaders; “if they keep choosing weak leaders and dressing them up as shoddy geography teachers, we are going to keep winning!”