George Osborne was in the audience for this blistering political drama by debut playwright Simon Woods, no doubt taking some credit for lines such as: “It’s so easy to mistake an expensive education for a genuine understanding of the world”.
Hansard – the title taken from the verbatim record of everything said in Parliament – is ostensibly about the political heavyweights of the late 1980s, told through the prism of a Tory backbencher and his left-leaning wife.
Robin returns from parliamentary business to find Diana luxuriating in her dressing gown, their artfully shabby Cotswolds home heavy with the fug of gin fumes. The pair immediately begin to spar, with Robin’s upbeat pragmatism the perfect foil for Diana’s droll disdain. They giddily tear strips off each other, neither conceding an inch in a grandstanding battle we assume has been underway for decades.
“It’s the great mystery of our time,” remarks Diana, “The insatiable desire of the people of this country to be fucked by an Old Etonian.”
Someone once counted up the jokes per minute of popular sitcoms (Veep won with one almost every 12 seconds); were they to repeat the task with plays, Hansard would surely be up there. Some of the biggest laughs predictably came from gags that reflect our own political situation, such as the dysfunctional Tories looking across the house and thinking: “We can’t believe our luck”.
But as the nimble 90 minutes tick by, the argument turns increasingly nasty. This isn’t, we realise, a pair of lovers engaging in verbal one-upmanship, but two damaged people dancing around some catastrophic event neither can bare to face head-on.
In the end it leaves you with the axiomatic truth that tribalism pales into insignificance in the face of personal tragedy. It’s an incredibly assured debut, one that left me a little broken but eager to see more from Simon Woods.