Hansard Review: National Theatre

Alex Jennings in Hansard picture by Catherine Ashmore

Alex Jennings in Hansard picture by Catherine Ashmore - Credit: Archant

Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan are at the top of their game as warring spouses trading jibes about Tory privilege

Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan as Diana in Hansard at the National Theatre picture by Catherine As

Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan as Diana in Hansard at the National Theatre picture by Catherine Ashmore - Credit: Archant

In a week when arcane parliamentary procedure grips the nation, Simon Woods' debut play is named after the verbatim record of debates in the Commons and Lords.

It's set in 1988 when a previous Tory Government introduced the controversial Section 28, a homophobic law banning schools and local authorities from promoting homosexuality as a 'pretended family relationship'.

Alex Jennings' worldweary Robin Hesketh is a Thacherite Minister who voted for it, his wife Diana - for reasons that we discover - is implacably opposed.

He arrives back from Westminster to his tasteful Cotswolds home to be greeted by a war of attrition from his possibly hungover wife still in her dressing gown.

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Ranging from jibes at his mother, Eton education and their unhappy marriage - her disloyalty drinking and leftie leanings - they trade caustic barbs and withering putdowns in this dance of death.

It's clearly a well-rehearsed script - like Albee's Martha and George, the last refuge of communication for two bruised spouses. Like Martha and George an absent child - and different ways of dealing with life's pain - lurk beneath their verbal sparring.

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Jennings and a supremely brittle Duncan are pros at the top of their game, and Woods deftly weaves politics about class privilege and entitlement into the marital war games in a way that's often very funny.

Occasionally there are glimpses that this union wasn't always unhappy.

Hesketh is no Tory bogeyman, but in his scorn for identity politics, empathy and psychotherapy - 'better just to get on with it' - a product of a time and upbringing that has cast him adrift from those he loves.

Fathers, it suggests, send their sons to Eton so they will be on the same page, but what if it doesn't work out that way?

About three quarters in, the relentless sparring starts to pale, just as Diana, armed with a diary and super 8 film, unleashes an unguessed at devastating revelation that offers hope of redemption.

As Jennings' face crumples into grief, you are dying for this lonely pair to comfort each other, but they never do.


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