Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Last of The Haussmans - review

Written by: Wendy (Wendyfer1)

National Theatre (Lyttleton), London

The Last of The Haussmans is the debut play of RADA graduate Stephen Beresford. Set around the final years of hippie veteran Judy (Julie Walters), the play is a tribute to the legacy of the swinging 60s mind-set and the generation that made the era. The programme is graced with cultural commentary from figures such as John Lennon, Arthur Marwick and Jenny Diski, highlighting the beginning of sexual liberation, youth culture and activism.

The lust for freedom from society seems to have been lost on Judy’s now middle-aged daughter Libby (Helen McCory), whose main concern is her rightful ownership of the family home. Helen McCory’s performance is clear, powerful and shockingly convincing. Her relationships with her mother, brother Nick (Rory Kinnear) and daughter Summer (Isabella Laughland) are all so believable, that Libby becomes the linchpin of the whole play.

The standard of the acting across the board is beyond impressive and credit must also be due to director Howard Davies. The set design is rich and simply gorgeous: there is so much detail taken from Judy’s character, which also inspires the soundtrack. As Jenny Diski rightly claims, the music in the sixties and seventies was certainly better than it is now.

It is hard to believe that this is Stephen Beresford’s first play. The comedy is sophisticated and the characters strong, however it was sometimes unclear how the play is supposed to come together into one thematic whole. It may only be convention that tells me this is necessary, but the events around Judy, Libby and Nick can seem like separate stories. Only at the very end do we see that Libby is being persuaded to live with a philosophy more like her mothers.

What the play does successfully is make you mourn for the spirit of the era that defined itself through peace and love. As a Tory government threatens the vulnerable members of society once again, political passion in the younger generation could never be more useful. Libby is a highly sympathetic character and you find yourself hoping she will develop the same zest for life which Julie Walters embodies so well. Escape from the controlling clenches of the property market is an appealing prospect for anyone.

Although the play is quite long, watching Judy irritate and inspire the people around her makes for a jovial, politically intellectual experience. I considerably look forward to Stephen Beresford’s next writing project. If it’s anywhere near as funny and insightful as The Last of The Haussmans, then he is a playwright worth watching.

This production runs until 11 October 2012. 
For more information:
@NationalTheatre #Haussmans 

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