Review: Excellent play, Hansard, excellent production, South Africa, starring Fiona Ramsay and Graham Hopkins

Hansard by Simon Woods (UK writer)

Where: Baxter Golden Arrow Studio
When: January 25 to February 18, 2023., at 8pm with Saturday matinees at 2pm
Cast: Fiona Ramsay and Graham Hopkins
Director: Robert Whitehead
Booking: Webtickets 
Age restriction: No under 14s    

A must see is Hansard at the Baxter Golden Arrow Studio -an excellent play with a superb cast – Fiona Ramsay and Graham Hopkins – riffing off each other in this play by UK writer Simon Woods. The run has been extended until February 18, 2023. With a crackling script and knockout performances by Ramsay and Hopkins, this is a production, not to be missed.

Hansard– references the transcript –I suppose one could say the archival method- of transcribing parliamentary debates in Britain and many Commonwealth countries- named after Thomas Hansard-a London printer and publisher. Ramsay plays Diana, the wife of Robin, a Tory politician. The protagonists, both in their extreme bubble of privilege in the Cotswolds in England, archive their lives. They ferret out truths and lies. It is a play about the personal and political and how what we present for others is very different to what goes on at home. It is a new play. It premiered in late 2019 at Britain’s National Theatre.

Over the weekend, I was raving about the play. One of the people remarked that she doesn’t know if she as a South African wants to see a play about British politics, set in 1988. It is not a play about ‘British politics’. It may be framed around a Tory politician and his wife in a particular milieu in England in the 80s, but the references are universal-in the way that we hold onto our family narratives and stories and deal with loss as best as we can.

I saw the play, a week after a bereavement in our family and somehow, this review got put on pause. I felt that I needed time to write a considered review. Time ran away, as I was dealing with loss in our family and here I am with my rave review of this excellent play. The run has been extended until February 18, so there is time to see it. Watching this play, I was reminded of the opening of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy: “All Happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In Hansard, Simon Wood’s rapier script excavates through the 30 year relationship of Diana and Robin and how they have got the point that we see them- on a summer morning in their so-called perfect domestic set-up. He has returned from the City and she is at home and we engage with the transcript of their lives. Ramsay and Hopkins volley words, barbs, insults. Delicious to watch the chemistry between them and how they pace and prowl around the stage.

During the pandemic, a great deal of theatre went out online. Many people do not like online theatre on the screen as they feel that it flattened the ‘live’ aspect of theatre and blunted the layers. I get that but in certain instance with dialogue rich plays, I relished in being able to rewind to playback lines. Watching Hansard and I wished that was available to me. The writing is bracing. This is one of the most polished narrative focused scripts that I have seen in a long time. Every line is a stinger and it rings out with unforgettable images – being zipped and unzipped, muted, restrained, bound to others – for good and bad. It is play about privilege and privileged people, shielded in their nest, going about their lives “in quiet desperation is the English way” (to quote from the Pink Floyd song, Time).  There is a reveal at the end but I will not plot spoil. 

Go and see this superb production with two veteran stage actors, Fiona Ramsay and Graham Hopkins, directed by Robert Whitehead. Yes, the play is set in posh Cotswolds England and Ramsay and Hopkins nail the buttery, buttoned up English accents but it could be anywhere. At the heart of this play, is the need to be accountable to how we conduct our lives, as we transcribe events and hold onto and narrate our stories.

Personal and political: Graham Hopkins and Fiona Ramsay in Hansard – the play by UK writer Simon Woods. The South African production has been presented by the Troupe Theatre Company and Theatre on the Square in Johannesburg. After a season at Theatre on the Square in 2022, the play transferred to the Baxter in Cape Town on January 25 and runs until February 18, 2023. Pic: Philip Kuhn.