Friday, 17 August 2012
The Last of The Haussmans at The Lyttleton
When I saw Julie Walters was returning to The National, the decision to book to see The Last of the Haussmans was a no brainer. Watching it rather later on in the run than normal, I had already read the various professional critics air their views and they had somewhat dampened my excitement, but not too much. After all Helen McCrory and Rory Kinnear are also in the cast, so the odd three rather than four stars really shouldn’t put me off. And, as far as I’m concerned they didn’t. Various criticisms over stereotypical characters and the production lacking in a searching or satisfying outcome doesn’t hold water with me. Because, at the end of the day (or very enjoyable evening) the actor, Stephen Beresford’s first play delivers scorching one liners, a superb cast and a great, fun night out.
Judy (the national treasure that is Julie Walters) is an ageing hippy who lives in a ramshackle but beautifully situated, boat inspired house overlooking the sea somewhere in the West Country. Her offspring, Libby (the excellent Helen McCrory) and Nick (the beautifully restrained but oh so believable Rory Kinnear) are staying with her as she recuperates from cancer surgery. Neither particularly want to be there, scarred as they are by Judy’s less than satisfactory early parenting skills and ability to embarrass them whenever she opens her mouth. Likewise, Libby’s fifteen year old daughter, Summer (Isabella Laughland - a complete natural), although her beef isn’t with her mouthy grandmother but with her mother, who has a propensity to fall in love, not only with the wrong men, but with men who are way too old. Throw into the mix a local married Doctor, Peter (the very watchable Matthew Marsh) who flirts with Judy, who wouldn’t say no to a sexual invitation that unfortunately won’t happen because he has his eyes set on Libby, plus the young, fit Daniel (an excellent debut by Taron Egerton) who secretly fancies Libby but is lusted over by the gay, ex junkie, Nick and hero worshipped by Summer and the scene is set for melt down.
They all have issues. Judy has never really become a grown up and is still locked into the sixties, yearning to return to India. She comes alive when the Doc calls round, in what amounts to sixties fancy dress and they reminisce about the good times, bringing them back to life by singing, playing guitar or playing very, very loud music, much to the consternation of her children. The uptight and bossy Libby is starved of love and is concerned about whether or not her and Nick will inherit the house. Brother Nick, also unlucky in love, is a neurotic, camp, ex junkie with kohl rimmed eyes and a wonderful air of vulnerability, who doesn’t enjoy being Mummy’s favoured child. Summer is an angry teenager who, when not swigging alcohol, sits and glowers. In fact the whole household doesn’t wait until sundown before opening the gin bottle, apart from Daniel, who appears as if from nowhere and watches.
Howard Davies directs a tightly knit production, squeezing out laugh after laugh. Not too difficult a task because each cast member is more than adept at perfect comic timing. The scene where Nick, palpably embarrassed and uncomfortable, tries to make conversation with Daniel will stay with me for a long time – brilliant. Vicki Mortimer’s crumbling house, decorated as a tatty shrine to hippiedom is pitch perfect and the accompanying sixties tracks are spot on. How wonderful is it to hear Family’s Roger Chapman’s distinctive voice again?
As you can probably gather, I loved it and if I were giving out stars I’d go for five!