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'Hansard': A Devastating Portrait of A Governing Class

Set in the summer of 1988, Hansard may be presumed to be retrospective: yet, as the play progresses, we discover just how little certain things have changed in Britain over the past few decades. Through the stream-of-consciousness style dialogue, the audience gains an insight into the echo chamber inhabited by middle-class Conservative England, particularly that of those who govern and are so sure of the policies they enact.

Promotional photo of 'Hansard' by The National Theatre

This two-hander is performed by serial Olivier Award winners Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan. The former executes the character of devoted Tory MP Robin Hesketh impeccably, embodying the notion of the British ‘stiff upper-lip’ in a manner which is both humorous and thought provoking. Through the role of Diana Hesketh, Duncan provides relief from Robin Hesketh’s rhetoric, as well as vocalising the voice of reason for those of a liberal persuasion. She is also the source of much of the play’s quick-witted dark humour, making quips at her husband such as that she can’t comprehend Britain’s “insatiable desire to be fucked by an old Etonian”, but that “it’s so easy to mistake an expensive education for an actual understanding of the world”.

Hansard centres around Section 28 of the Local Government Act of 1988, which made it illegal for a local authority to "intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship". The fictional character of Robin Hesketh attempts to justify his decision to publicly support Section 28 to his wife, by remarking that people like people like themselves, and are fearful of those who are different. Yet, in making such statements, it is evident he misses the point his wife repeatedly tries to make: namely, that he – as an MP – has the power to change prejudices such as these, at least to some small extent, for his words have “weight”. But all this is lost on Robin: he is far too absorbed in party politics, and his beliefs far too ingrained to be altered, even when he learns of things that should change his perspective entirely.

Photo of Lindsay Duncan (Diana) and Alex Jennings (Robin) by Catherine Ashmore

The opening scenes of Hansard have the audience smirking at Simon Woods’ ingenious depiction of a failed marriage within the upper echelons of society. But as the play proceeds, the atmosphere became more and more sobering. We are made acutely aware of the danger of those who are intolerant to those different to themselves – and the fact that this is something we are, terrifyingly, witnessing a resurgence of today, as is exemplified by the rise of populist alt-right groups.

As we look back in time with Diana and Robin, we discover that what is really “unbearable” in their lives is not, as they claim, the fox which repeatedly digs up their rather large garden. Rather, it is something altogether unspeakable, so much so that even Diana (who frequently mocks her husband’s inability to open up) would rather bury it than bring it out into the open. As the play draws to a close, the characters are exposed for all that they are; behind the hardened visage, and their vast political differences, they are just two broken people, immensely vulnerable and strangely in need of each other somehow. The rawness of each character in the final moments of the play was both refreshing and heart-breaking, leaving the audience feeling somehow enlightened and yet heartbroken as the curtain came down.

I thoroughly recommend seeing Hansard if you get the chance. I would also highly recommend the Entry Pass scheme run by the National Theatre: if you are between the ages of 16 and 25, you can get tickets (including those in the top price bracket) for just £7.50, so it’s definitely worth signing up for!

Hansard is on at the National Theatre until Monday 25th November 2019 and tickets are available here.

Edited by Charlee Kieser, Deputy Digital Editor