You wait an age for a play about free-spirited people who behaved selfishly in the sixties and how their behaviour made lost souls of their offspring desperate to get their hands on property…
Well, you know the rest.
The Quink from the Whingers’ quills had barely dried from their uncharacteristically and almost unbridled rave about Mike Bartlett’s Love, Love, Love at the Royal Court and here they were again ploughing territory with spookily similar themes.
Expectations had already been running unreasonably high with Julie Walters, Rory Kinnear, Helen McCrory and Matthew Marsh in the cast. Imagine being the playwright Stephen Beresford and finding that lot in your first play The Last of the Haussmans - and on a proper National Theatre stage and not even tucked away in the Cottesloe.
High society drop-out and anarchic hippy Judy (Walters) lives in a dilapidated revolving Art Deco house (gloriously realised by Vicki Mortimer) on the Devon coast, marinated in spirits and the spirits of her beloved Ashrams. Her home is as cluttered as her mind. No wonder her children, the addled, gay, gin-swilling ex-junkie Nick (Kinnear) and the almost equally disturbed Libby (McCrory) are both a tin can short of a wind chime.
But their pain proves to be our pleasure. There is a host of good performances and hilarious lines (covering all points from Ritz crackers to badgers to a Dimbleby by way of Elaine Paige) to enjoy as we watch their further disintegration. It may seem cruel to laugh, but we did. A lot.
What you make of Walter’s larger-than-life performance very much depends on how you feel about her particular schtick. Her part looks as if it might have been written with her in mind. According to this it was. With flowing unkempt grey hair she can sit on even her illness won’t stop her selfish manipulation. Her delivery of the word ‘Poona’ (Pune) is almost worth the price of a ticket in itself.
Mr Kinnear delivers dissipation and drunkeness most effectively but it’s McCrory’s desperate Libby who is the most rounded of the characters. Looking slightly like an undernourished Frances Barber and with a voice huskier than an unswept brewery floor she’s never less than compelling – even when she boxes up some family memories towards the end of the play with such ineptitude that we must conclude she learned her craft at The Olivia Williams School of House Removals.
Some of the plot developments are as unbelievable as McCrory’s box-packing though we would need spoiler alerts to reveal them. It gives little away to say that the part of the enigmatic young pool boy Daniel (Taron Egerton, fresh out of RADA having already received a prize from Julia McKenzie) who drifts in and out as an observer and will make something of his life in sharp, but slightly pat contrast to the Haussmans, is a bit unconvincing. Director Howard Davies papers over a few cracks most efficiently to deliver a thoroughly absorbing evening. Andrew declared himself “never bored” which is not suggesting his dam of faint praise had broken.
What it was all getting at we would struggle to say but TLOTH is still a remarkable playwriting debut and proved a most agreeable ride.