SYN Reviews: National Theatre Live: Hansard

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National Theatre Live: Hansard Review

Preview provided by publicist

Words by Benjamin Polazzon


Our own private Hansard


If you do not learn from the past, you are doomed to repeat it. This phrase is typically used during times of unrest that mirror the past; giving us a template on how to approach similar issues. For playwright Simon Woods, 1988 is the past and repeating it we are already. Filmed live in the famous West End of London, National Theatre Live: Hansard is simplistic but powerful as it explores current social issues with context from the past.


In Britain 1988, Tory politician Robin Hesketh returns home to his wife of thirty years, Diana. He has been debating controversial legislation which would restrict local authorities from promoting homosexuality. Pointed banter soon turns into blood-sport as secrets are revealed and truths are exposed. On top of all that, they also have guests arriving soon for lunch. Olivier Award-winners Lindsey Duncan and Alex Jennings headline this production, and both are phenomenal. Their chemistry is palpable; there is no doubt they are an unhappily married couple. They keep the show on track, so it never feels too long or too short. It is the intricacies in their actions and delivery that show they clearly know the script through and through.


Simple stories are usually the most compelling. This rings extremely true for Hansard which is set in a single room with two actors bickering for two hours. The best part is it never gets dull. The insults back-and-forth offer comedic relief while also providing the devasting drama that underlies the show. That drama is not explicitly spoken about until the end which means the story – and clues for the audience – is unraveled slowly. By no means does the play drag though. There is logical progression throughout with everything happening for a reason; nothing comes out of the blue. Woods deserves much credit for being able to juggle a complex emotional drama with moments of shockingly hilarious comedy.


Being a period piece there is little room to move for costumes, set and props. The set design is reminiscent of a home in the 1980s, conveying their wealth and status. The lounge room and kitchen are large; they have a wooden table they no longer use. Similar situation with the costumes, of the time but not too fancy or noteworthy. While there is nothing inherently special about the technical aspects of the production, they assist in realising the world in which our characters inhabit and do so without fail. For its transition to screen, like most National Theatre Live performances, the magic is not lost. The edit is simple but if it had been flashy or elaborate the show would look ridiculous. This play thrives in simplicity which the broadcast team understood and executed flawlessly.


The world is moving faster than ever. How can we learn from history when we create so much of it quickly? I believe Woods hopes by offering little windows into the past we can
still learn. Rather than focus on grand events, we look at small stories in great depth. If this play is anything to go by, it may just work. You will not need an official report to remember what happens in National Theatre Live: Hansard because its simple story will remain with you long after the final bow.


National Theatre Live: Hansard is showing in select cinemas until December 15th, with some exceptions. It will not be redistributed after this date.

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