They play Sandra and Kenneth, trippy hippy lovers at Oxford in the late 1960s, then embittered parents in 1990 (“We live in Reading; something’s gone wrong”) and finally selfishly reunited old friends in 2011.
Why the “selfish”? It is Bartlett’s fashionable, reactionary (and deeply flawed) view that the baby-boomers, beneficiaries of the post-war re-build and new moral laxity, have spoilt the world for their children.
In a coruscating third act the couple’s daughter, Rose (Claire Foy), an impecunious musician who can’t afford a child, a house or a car, accuses her parents not of changing the world, but of buying it. Their son, Jamie (George Rainsford), is a monosyllabic, unemployed iPad geek sharing a home and a wine collection with his indolent father.
As in 13, his underrated dystopian epic at the National last year, Bartlett reveals a fine talent for the Shavian rant, having earned the right with a strong theatrical set-up. While Sandra and Kenneth may sound a little like characters evoking the sixties rather than living them, the shift in social tectonic plates is brilliantly done.
The first upheaval is Kenneth’s snaffling of Sandra from under the nose of his elder brother, Henry (Sam Troughton), a working-class billboard poster man who’s caught the eye of a passing “bird”. That “bird,” like Kenneth, is at Oxford and the druggy die is cast.
The expected split between brothers is left unexplored as the play accelerates to the domestic jungle with accusations of infidelity and Sandra’s drinking causing deep unhappiness all round. The echoes of the Beatles’ song of the title (as in, “All You Need Is...”) suggest that love is usually never enough.
Hamilton gives a ravishing display of huskily-voiced self-centredness while Miles, unrecognisable as the lolloping student of the first act, drifts into middle-aged soulless inertia then retired material smugness (earning £60,000 a year without doing anything) in a natural, utterly convincing dramatic progression.
In some ways, Bartlett’s play – co-produced by the Court with Paines Plough in association with the Drum Theatre Plymouth – is an act of revenge by one generation on another. As such, it’s a classic Court play with an authentic noise of anger and resentment.
It’s also very funny, brilliantly designed by Lucy Osborne, and cheeringly given the full main-stage treatment that should ensure the sort of maximum cultural impact once the province of John Osborne and, more recently, David Hare and Jez Butterworth.