The Heskeths are based in The Cotswolds; she left wing, her husband a Tory MP. She drinks gin from Monday to Friday until he comes home for weekends when they pretend at being happy. From the opening salvo of abuse between Diana and Robin Hesketh the whole audience knew this new play, Hansard, was going to be a blinder, and we were correct, writes Michael Holland.
‘The whole country ravaged and decimated and they still keep voting Conservative!’ She rages. ‘It seems to be everyone’s dream to get f*cked by an Old Etonian!’ She adds. And so it continued, line after great line was volleyed from each end of the wide stage as we watched on, our heads swivelling from left to right in unison like a Wimbledon crowd. ‘You smell like a bottle bank,’ returns Robin with a backhand straight down the line. After one diatribe from Diana on how the poor and vulnerable had been downtrodden for years by Tory rule, her husband counters with, ‘Have you been at The Guardian again? I told the newsagent not to serve you any more.’ Genius, pure genius from writer Simon Woods who, we read in the programme, was actually at school with BoJo, Cameron and many others who have carried on an Eton network that pulls the strings in the most important areas of our daily lives. Woods, however, was a scholarship boy rather than one of the entitled and privileged pupils who were merely following on from a long line of entitled and privileged Old Etonians.
‘I’ve been a good Tory wife,’ begins Mrs Hesketh, with another venomous volley towards Mr Hesketh as he mixes the perfect Bloody Mary during this battle of wicked wit. ‘I’ve worn the headscarves and twin sets, and indulged in casual racism for you…’ He dodges that one by topping up Diana’s glass.
It comes across as a play for today because we can relate everything on the stage to everything we have recently read in the papers. Then, about a quarter of the way through, there is a mention of Clause 28, Margaret Thatcher’s controversial law that put an already sidelined LGBT community more at risk. Then Sue Lawley was mentioned, and it slowly dawned on us that this was the 80s and not this week in Parliament. Very cleverly done. Advantage Woods.
Hansard is a daily record of what is said in Parliament and is the hook to which this play hangs its narrative on. The record kept by the Heskeths, through old cine film and a diary, however, is the bad memories of their life together that led to incorrect assumptions being made and the place they find themselves in right now. The raucous cross court rallies eventually lost their humour as family secrets were unearthed to reveal the hidden shame and guilt. The sins of bad parenting over generations now had them both struggling to return to winning ways. Deuce.
The devastating end came quickly and suddenly after the initial euphoria and caught us all by surprise. Game, set and match to Lindsey Duncan and Alex Jennings for 90 minutes of quite brilliant performing. Hats off, too, for Simon Godwin’s direction.
There will be a live broadcast to over 700 UK cinemas on November 7th.
Hansard is on at the National Theatre until 25th November. Times: Mon-Sat 7.30 pm; Tues & Sat matinees 2.15pm. Admission: £15 – £89. Phone: 020 7452 3000