Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Last of the Haussmans.

To the National Theatre to see the much anticipated first play by actor Stephen Beresford The Last of the Haussmans.

In essence it's smart, rather than groundbreaking work. Beresford, like Chekhov in The Cherry Orchard, which it's impossible not to be reminded off, looks at the legacy of indulgence, but instead of turn of the century Russia, here we're transported to a crumbling seaside home, where flower power child of the sixties, Julia Haussman, played perhaps slightly too self-knowingly by Julie Walters, holds court with her two children Libby, dealing with a recent break up, Nick, her talented but demon riddled son and her granddaughter Summer. Literally and metaphorically the house is falling down and the children, brought up to sentimentally follow their own destines, are ill-equipped to stop the rot.

Helen McCory and Rory Kinnear have great fun as Libby and Nick, playing up to Walters tottering matriarch, and revelling in the finely tuned lines gifted to them - at one point Nick stuns his mother by telling her that the revolutionaries of his youth were Reagan and Thatcher, rather than the women of Greenham Common, who, he claims are now left doing nothing more important than managing donkey sanctuaries.

For a while now the search has been on for a meaningful 'right wing' play to challenge the liberal intelligentsia's version of recent history and contemporary society. The problem is that although Beresford sets up an interesting argument, the rambling nature of the work and his acerbic pen, leaves us, at best, ambivalent to the fate of the characters. In The Cherry Orchard, the offstage sound of the trees being chopped down, provides a metronomic urgency, that makes the play simultaneously vital and heartbreaking. Here, however, rather than feeling the Haussmans are a central metaphor for a dysfunctional society we're left struggling to see them as little more than the naive relics of impossible dream.

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