The Last of the Haussmans
Lyttelton Theatre (National)
Most wannabe playwrights are delighted to get a first piece produced in a briefly borrowed church hall on the Edinburgh Fringe.
Actor Stephen Beresford has achieved something remarkable in getting his debut play to premiere at the National Theatre on one of the big stages. This must be an almost unprecedented event and, to add to the glory, he has been blessed with a first rate director in Howard Davies and top notch cast.
The Last of the Haussmans follows an unconventional family as it struggles to come to terms with modern life and its own dysfunctional issues.
Julie Walters has a whale of a time as matriarch Judy. She is an unreconstructed hippie who has kept the faith forty years longer than anyone else despite suffering a stream of life's vicissitudes.
She now lives in a marvellous Vicki Mortimer-designed house on an estuary somewhere near Plymouth that looks like a commune but is inhabited by her family and then only intermittently.
Helen McCrory is daughter Libby. She is a weak character caught in between an irresponsible mother who goes with any passing flow and a 15-year-old daughter, Isabel Laughland's Summer, who has enough common sense for a whole family and needs it.
The family is completed by Nick, who has something of the qualities of Felix Humble in Humble Boy, the impression concreted by Rory Kinnear's vocal similarities to Simon Russell Beale. Nick is a New Romantic ex-junkie who looks like an escapee from Withnail and I and suffers from self-esteem so low as to be bordering on invisibility.
The family's failures are compounded in love. Judy seemed to drift in and out without a care in the world but her children failed to inherit that talent.
Libby has a penchant for married men who promise the earth but then steal it, exemplified by Matthew Marsh as
well-grounded Doctor Peter.
She is however worshipped by a Taron Egerton's young neighbour boy Daniel, which would be fine were he not the object of Nick's ardent but unexpressed desires. Quite what they see in the monosyllabic swimming prodigy beyond a desirable physique is never explained.
Stephen Beresford's strengths lie in a talent for quickfire jokes and creating memorable characters, fully realised by a very strong team of actors all of whom are on form. The situations can border on the melodramatic and by the end of an overly-long 2¾ hours, the plot is left deliberately unresolved.
This means that there is every chance that the Haussmans will go on making the same mistakes forever. There is also a hint that hippie happiness has never been quite the same since the advent of Thatcherite free enterprise.
On this showing, Beresford has every chance of making a career as a playwright but next time around, he needs to sharpen the focus and work much harder on plotting.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher