Review – The Last of the Haussmans, National Theatre

Tuesday 19 June 2012

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.



12 Responses to “Review – The Last of the Haussmans, National Theatre”

  1. betsy Says:

    ‘What it was getting at we would struggle to say’ – exactly.

    It’s a play with nothing to say. A couple of quite actable characters, a few decent one-liners, – but slow and shallow, with no compelling story, and too many endings. A ‘remarkable playwriting debut’ only in that a play that would usually have been staged on the fringe somehow made it to the Lyttleton…

  2. Cherry Says:

    So agree with Betsy.
    The Play was a poor shadow of “Love,love,love” So sorry such fine actors were put through such trite and tedious lines.
    Glad to see the last of these Haussmans.

  3. Chris Says:

    Just how gorgeous was Taron Egerton (Daniel)? Full bodied indeed!

  4. Jamie Says:

    Oh it surely was one of the worst plays I’ve ever seen, but it’s one of the plays that the National do so well: Middle-class, middle-aged and white. It had truly little to say to me though I am middle-aged and white.

  5. JohnnyFox Says:

    Egerton’s a boy to watch – he sings, too, having won the SSSPOTYs (Sondheim student singfest) two years ago.

    Re Dame Julie Walters, I was in a spasm of bifurcation about her performance – yes, it was noble but also the voice was 100% Petula Gordano from Dinnerladies. I wished she’d find a tone she hadn’t already spoofed to death in sitcom.

    • Blue Baby Says:

      That was the character I was trying to remember – Petra in Dinnerladies. Utterly hammy in.1st act but better in second. Thought McCrory & Kinnear terrific. Rory’s laugh is uncannily like that of his father. Isabella.Laughland is going to be a huge star.

  6. Sandown Says:

    “Poona” is supposed to be pronounced thus, as it has been for centuries. The name “Pune” is a recent invention, concocted by a Hindu Nationalist politician, as is “Mumbai” for Bombay.

    As for the play itself, why is the family given a German name ? Where does all their money come from ? How could the daughter obtain an “equity release” on a house that she doesn’t own ?

    Any play written by an actor is likely to have a rather limited grasp of the real world, but this was completely off the map.

  7. Ken Says:

    It was so painfully long and unfunny I was holding my head in agony by the end. When Helen McCrory said “One more thing…”, I had to restrain myself from shouting “No! Please don’t!”. I like a bit of self-indulgence, but not at the theatre, please!

  8. Berrnard Young Says:

    Why did this play ever get to the National is a mystery. Boring and not very funny. Kept looking at my watch soon after the second half started and noticed several people around me doing the same.

  9. John Hills Says:

    Wonderful acting (McCrory outstanding) and some witty pieces of text did not redeem an apprenticeship piece of drama that needed a good editor. The implausibility of the circumstances of the house sale is just one example. Characters bordered on cliche and stereotype moving in and out of credible reality for those familiar with the dynamics of family dysfunction. Gratuitous insult to Plymouth (albeit delivered in a humerous context in the script), the city that produced the John Lennon of modern jazz in the 1960’s, John Surman.
    Beresford is a playwright with promise but this was not yet ready for the Lyttleton-“Long Day’s Journey into Night” meets “Ab Fab”…and indeed why not “Houseman” in the title? Did we need the Europeanisation? Was this meant to be a cunning reference to the great Parisian civic planner? (I think we should be told, ed)

  10. I could only give this two stars despite great performances from McCrory and Kinnear .

  11. Julie Paternoster Says:

    saw it beamed through at a cinema so a different view. Have done this before with dog in the night(very successful) Thought the acting was spot on. It was interesting to see Julie Walters not being an Acorn although this was her part. I did think Stephen Beresford had his characters fully rounded. It is the theatre and one does suspend disbelief at times(re the equity bit) I am giving the play a 4.5 for many reasons. It has a great title, for one, Haussman makes you want to know more, everything hinges on a title and the first lines? and a cast , McCory and Kinnear are amazing? Do we go to the theatre to be entertained or have our brain stretched? this came into the first bracket. Hell, stop complaining you public this is a fab 1st play lets hope Mr Beresford goes on to write a gem.

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