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I commend this debut to the House. Simon Woods’ Hansard is a sign of more to come

The Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre) isn’t a bad spot to stage your first play as a writer. Simon Woods has really landed on his feet here with his 80-minute one-act political comi-drama.

There are certainly more than a few clever, witty moments through the play, though I can’t help thinking that the Oxford graduate is something of a poor man’s Alan Ayckbourn at present.

The play, set in an expansive Cotswolds house, with a garden (off-stage) blighted by foxes, carries the audience through a morning with Diana and Robin Hesketh (Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings).

The Heskeths have been married thirty years – he’s a Conservative MP, whilst she presents herself as resolutely Left.

The comic spite in their political disagreements in the first half of this play were too big a challenge for me to believe in their marriage. They were a marriage of convenience – a writer’s convenience – and not, for me, grounded in reality.

However, there was a real and gritty element to this story. It took an hour or so to discover it, but the clincher at the end is really very arresting.

I would have liked to delve more into the couple’s painful history a little earlier in the play, which might have helped ground some of the throwaway, witty to-and-fros.

Simon Godwin’s stage directions work well on the wide Lyttelton stage. Constant movement, sometimes focused, sometimes aimless, mimiced real life expertly.

But it was mimicry.

The play was an open manifesto. It was not suggestive, but instructive. It was not subtle, but a poster for the political movement of gay rights and the internal struggles of the Conservative Party to get there.

A word, as always, about the set: designed by Hildegard Bechtler the set struck me as almost cinematic in its proportions. Wide – 16:9 wide. And deep too – there was a real depth to the stage, with rooms leading into rooms into rooms.

I liked the open but clear separation between the front rooms, allowing the actors to partake in a wide dance, engaging with each other as if joined by a elastic bungee cord, but never close enough to touch.

Hildegard should have a stern word with Jackie Shemesh (Lighting Designer) about the “sunlight” streaming in from the Stage Left windows. About as believable as the longevity of the protagonists’ marriage.

The World Premiere of Hansard opened at the Lyttelton Theatre (National Theatre) on 3 September 2019 and closes on 25 November 2019.

Review overview

Overall Performance 8
Production Design 8
Theatre 9

Summary

8.3 front row score This run is almost entirely sold out and with good reason - Simon Woods' debut play shows that there will be many more to come and it is well worth seeing the World Premiere of his debut piece. Currently a 'poor man's Alan Ayckbourn', this play offers a cocktail of politics, personal tragedy and everyday banality. To elevate it to the next level, the cocktail needs to be shaken or stirred before serving. The staging is cinematic and Simon Godwin's direction makes excellent use of the space. Pretty much every seat is a good seat in the Lyttelton Theatre. I sat in the middle of the Dress Circle and would recommend these seats.

Tags : Alex JenningsHansardHildegard BechtlerLindsay DuncanLyttelton TheatreNational TheatreNT LivePolitical ComedySimon GodwinSimon WoodsSouth Bank

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