The United Kingdom, 1988. Thatcher becomes the longest serving British Prime Minister. Core industries are privatised in succession. Section 28 of the Local Government Act prohibits schools from ‘the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality’. And Conservative junior minister, Robin Hesketh, and his wife, Diana, exchange verbal spears in their Oxfordshire country home.
Simon Woods’ script is sheer perfection, gradually narrowing its focus from the overarching political landscape to its implications upon the couple, to an emotionally shattering conclusion. The story is expertly evoked by Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan. Duncan’s Diana eloquently hurls gin-soaked slurs at her husband, ironically craving the release of death whilst the less fortunate are dying in NHS hospital queues. Her barbs towards Conservative policies and party members are hilariously scathing, though she bears just as much resentment towards ‘the insatiable desire of the people of this country to be f*cked by an old Etonian’.
Not to be outshone, Jennings’ responses are equally provocative. Diana’s leftism is countered by his remarks of the privileged stance of us critical theatre-goers and book-readers – ignorant to the realities of policy making. His resonant declaration that the Conservatives will continue to retain power so long as Labour selects poor leaders is not lost on the audience.
The National Theatre Live recorded format does well to showcase the entirety of the tonal set. No detail is spared, from the cream AGA range, to the perfect Conservative-blue of their child’s Sports Day rosette – a bitter final touch reinforcing the personal effects of Tory policies on the marginalised. It’s immaculate, though I wouldn’t expect anything less.
In this moment, when political identification and policies are again emotionally charged, and we’ve all-too-easily mistaken an ‘expensive education for an actual understanding of the world’, Hansard is a necessary reminder that our legacies are always being recorded.
Hansard was screened at the Festival Theatre on 22 November 2019 as part of National Theatre Live’s 10th Birthday Season.