Simon Woods' HANSARD is currently on at the Baxter Theatre, with Graham Hopkins and Fiona Ramsey, under the direction of Robert Whitehead, stepping into the shoes of feuding spouses caught up in the political turmoil of 1980s 'tough-love' Thatcher-Tory politics in England.
Things are definitely not all as it seems in HANSARD: it looks at the relationship between a husband and wife as they unpack the personal impact of the conservative party’s approach to the “protection” of children in 1980s England. What adds to the impact of the play is its implied call for consideration as to the modern-day comparative “protection” and how that changes according to the will of conservatives and liberals as power struggles play out at the cost of the most vulnerable.
The tone is set by the bickering between fictional Tory Party member Richard (Graham Hopkins) and his wife Diana (Fiona Ramsay), which reminds me of the punchy banter found in Virginia Woolf. Though in HANSARD there does appear to be a real undertone of love, even if the couple, one a conservative and the other a liberal, don’t always see eye-to-eye. So, in HANSARD, unlike with Virginia Woolf, the resentment one perceives as fueling the argument between the two is actually driven by guilt, misunderstanding, and heartbreak.
The text is witty and sharp right up until the point that it isn’t and you realise that it is in fact punching you in the heart with all the emotion it can muster: I am not ashamed to admit that it made me laugh until I cried. The actors show great skill in keeping up with the pace and emotional pressure that such a roller-coaster of a play demands.
It all comes to an emotional climax when the couple realises that, despite their different world views, the source of their sorrow ultimately is the same. It is what they do with that sorrow and how their actions impact the lives of others in response that ultimately stands to divide them. But shared sorrow does reveal the potential of love rekindled and, hopefully, perspectives shifted in favour of a more inclusive political stance when it comes to human rights protection and acceptance of all – or at least that is where I hope the story of the couple took them after the curtain call.
HANSARD truly is a mirror from the 80s that reflects the potential harm and hurt that politics as it is currently unfolding can cause. One can only hope that somehow in the here and now love will win again and again.
This two-hander, as political scrutiny, may not be everyone’s cup of (English) tea, but for those who like sharp witted commentary that is a reflection on the politics of the day, this is a play that will give you much food for thought along with a good dose of entertainment too.
On a lighter fashion note, a take-away from the play: I may reconsider wearing an Alice band ever again, as someone may mistake me for a conservative.
You have until 11 February 2023 to see HANSARD at the Baxter Theatre. Tickets are available online through Webtickets.