The Last of the Haussmans is the debut effort from established theatre actor Stephen Beresford. It explores the inner workings of a dysfunctional family, headed up by ageing sixties throwback Judy (Julie Walters).
Marking a stage return for Walters, the play is held together by the strong individual performances of the lead characters. Rory Kinnear is entertaining and engaging as Nick, Judy’s shambolic ex-heroin son while Helen McCrory puts in a show stealing turn as Libby, Nick’s neurotic and self obsessed sister. Another highlight is provided by Summer (Isabella Laughland), Libby’s surly teenage daughter.
Unfortunately, the strong individual performances of the lead characters are undermined by weaknesses in the writing. Throughout the show, Judy’s recollections of her youth and the political movements of the 1960s often fall into cheap parody and psychedelic clichés. This isn’t helped by the profusion of yin-yangs, CND logos and other predictable hippie imagery which detracts from an otherwise well constructed set.
Judy lives in a dilapidated art-deco house in Devon, where she is recovering from cancer. Nick and Libby return to help look after her but get embroiled in ongoing disputes over inheritance. Thrown into the mix are a married doctor (Peter Marsh) who longs for his hippie youth, hangs around with Judy and has an affair with Libby, and Daniel, a local lad and object of Nick’s desires.
The main frustration with The Last of the Haussmans is that it’s quite unclear what Beresford is trying to say. He draws a fair amount of humour from situations that the characters become embroiled in but he fails to make any great comment on the passing of youthful idealism which would appear to be one of his aims.
There is enough humour, decent characterisation, gloss and professionalism to keep the audience interested and carry the piece but in the end it is rather frustrating. It feels like Beresford has missed an opportunity to create a really strong piece of theatre examining the baby boomer generation as they get older and the lasting impact of those sixties movements. Sadly the overall effect is undermined by its somewhat crass and obvious scripting.
The Last of the Haussmans is at The National Theatre at 7.30pm and also weekend matinees at 2.30pm, ends 10 October. Tickets £12 – £47.