Stellar Cast for Stephen Beresford's First Play
“My children hate it when I’m sexual.”
Stephen Beresford’s debut play The Last of the Haussmans gets a production at the National Theatre’s Lyttelton with a starry cast of Rory Kinnear, Helen McCrory and Julie Walters. Like Mike Bartlett’s Love, Love, Love this play looks at the descendants of the boomer generation who came of age in the 1960s, but the Haussmans have never matched the business inheritance, left to the family by the early 20th century shop keepers in Bristol. Their inheritance is a large house with swimming pool in a seaside town on Devon’s south coast.
Julie Walters is Judy the mother who went off to India, following a Maharishi type figure and living in an Ashram. The Devon house is brimming over with hippy mementoes, flags from India and CND insignia.
In the opening scene her thirty something son Nick (Rory Kinnear), a recovering drug addict and homosexual, has been summoned home because Judy has just undergone an operation for cancer. Also there are her daughter in her forties, Libby (Helen McCrory) and her daughter the caustic and ill-named, 15 year old Summer (Isabella Laughland). Matthew Marsh is the local doctor and philanderer and Taron Egerton completes the cast as Daniel, Judy’s attractive houseboy.
If Vicki Mortimer’s revolving Art Deco house set is symbolic of the nation, this house is over stuffed and under cared for with dirty windows and tat everywhere. Judy may have developed her spirituality but she hasn’t done a good job as a mother or as an economic provider. She left the children with their intolerant grandfather while she went to India. If Libby and Nick have turned up to stake a claim on their dying mother’s house, they will be disappointed. In an act symbolic of everything else about Judy Haussman, she has sold the family silver, the house, to a company which releases the equity on homes and leaves nothing for the children. She still has her rebellious spirit as she rails against the richer neighbours, who of course find her home unsightly and a health hazard.
Although there is much to laugh at in Beresford’s witty dialogue, the overarching feel of the play is one of inertia and dysfunction but without Chekhovian depths. It is not a comfortable portrait of the 1960s generation who were so keen to change the world. The last scene with the dying Judy sees her sitting in a chair, impassive and wearing dark glasses as the cancer takes hold.
It is Helen McCrory’s brittle and angry daughter who is the most interesting of the characters. She is damaged and in turn has no idea how to raise her very difficult stroppy daughter Summer, who is exploiting the split between Libby and Summer’s father. Rory Kinnear is soft as Judy’s son, with his eyeliner and swatch of pink hair but he is feckless and a drifter, looking for sexual fulfilment and ending up with cheap gratification, using smack.
Unlike Bartlett’s play which saw the parents strive financially to give the children more choice than they had, only to be scuppered by the falling economy, here we have a mother who has chosen selfishly to keep to her hippy ideals but left her children with no sense of family.
Last of the Haussmans
Written by Stephen Beresford
Directed by Howard Davies
Set and Costume Designer: Vicki Mortimer
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sound Designer: Christopher Shutt
Choreographer: Sian Williams
Projection Design: Jon Driscoll
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes with one interval
Closed on 11th October 2012
London SE1 9PX
Phone: 020 7452 3000
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at the Lyttelton Theatre, National Theatre on 23rd June 2012