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The Last of the Haussmans

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
First-time playwright Stephen Beresford has worked as an actor with the National and Out of Joint and has obviously acquired some good habits when it comes to constructing a scene or, for that matter, the occasional joke. And he’s been given the full works at the National.

But The Last of the Haussmans, affectionately and patiently directed by Howard Davies, is exposed on the vast Lyttelton stage as a promising debut rather than a seriously accomplished one, making similar points about the 1960s 'me' generation to those in Mike Bartlett’s {Love Love Love::E8831336121424} recently at the Royal Court, but with far less wit and ferocity.

Julie Walters plays Judy Haussman, an ageing, crone-like former drop-out who is recovering from an operation and hosting the return of the grown-up siblings, Nick and Libby (Rory Kinnear and Helen McCrory), she farmed out to their grandparents in this same crumbling Devon art deco mansion while she hit the hippy trail.

It’s a wonderful role, and Walters seizes it with relish, supposedly re-entering the real world by having a family meeting to decide the future of the house. All similarities with The Cherry Orchard are deliberate and rather obvious: Kinnear’s lackadaisical gay mumbler and former heroin addict harbours weird fantasies of being a weather girl just as Chekhov’s Gaev retreats into his snooker shots.

And there’s even a racy doctor, ebulliently played by Matthew Marsh, who is conducting an adulterous affair with McCrory’s vivacious Libby, though the younger characters – Isabella Laughland’s bolshie teenager, Libby’s daughter, and Taron Egerton’s secretive adolescent who drops by to use the pool and stoke random lusty urges – have their own singular identity and derivation.

Vicki Mortimer’s spectacular South Coast fastness has all the grime, collected bric-a-brac, fading plants and bunting of a happy haven gone to seed, and the future of this house, replete with memories, is in the balance. Years of free love, bad behaviour, emotional neglect and drug-fuelled routes to paradise have taken their inexorable toll.

Not that the arguments hold sway, finally, but it’s slightly depressing to see a play at the National pandering so obviously to the new Puritans and revisionist cultural historians. Even the mention of Joan Baez and Bob (“expletive”-ing) Dylan raises a cheap laugh in the first scene, and there’s a curious reaction to the angry suggestion that this is no time of the night for Slade; is there any time ever for Slade?


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