Mini Review from London–THE LAST OF THE HAUSSMANS

by Lynn on July 4, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Lyttelton Theatre, London. Written by Stephen Beresford. Directed by Howard Davies. Designed by Vicki Mortimer. Lighting by Mark Henderson. Sound by Christopher Shutt. Starring: Taron Egerton, Rory Kinnear, Isabella Laughland, Matthew Marsh, Helen McCrory, Julie Walters

Set in the rolling hills of Devon. The once grand, but now rundown house of Judy Haussman, aging hippy, alcoholic, and dying of cancer. Her equally lost and troubled adult children, Libby and Nick, are summoned home to her to see what they can do.

Libby has her 15 year old daughter Summer in tow. Libby is flighty, angry, and a lousy picker of men. She falls instantly in love with them thinking it will last and it doesn’t. She hardly knows who Summer’s father is. Her latest fling is Peter, the local married doctor, tending to her mother. Nick is equally at sea. A recovering addict but now happy just to drink; gay, unlucky in his choice of partners. They are shiftless, aimless and unhappy.

Libby and Nick know that their grandfather wanted them to have the house. Because they don’t visit often for various reasons, mainly the difficulty in dealing with Judy, they have never discussed the matter. Libby is convinced by Peter on how to work things out. It turns out to be a disastrous move and somehow Peter gets the house with the Haussmans only living there on borrowed time.

THE LAST OF THE HAUSSMANS is the first play by actor Stephen Beresford and for ¾ of it it’s annoying in its efforts to be clever, obviously funny, and perhaps even profound. Judy expounds on the hippy life; socialism; the labour party; life etc. It all rings hollow because these sad people have never actually DONE anything except talk about doing something. They all want to change the world and come to that realization when they are drunk or stoned. It’s been done before and better.

The cast is terrific proving that yes, a good cast can make mediocre material seem better than it is. As Libby Helen McCrory has that piercing look that can attract men and scare everybody else. She is formidable. As Nick, Rory Kinnear is a mass of nervous ticks that are right for the character. His left ankle twitches and circles as he listens to news he doesn’t want to hear. His timing is perfection. As Judy, Julie Walters is having a field day roaring around reliving her glory hippy days, and carrying them on in her older age. She wants to roll around in the grass with the doctor. She wants to jump on that young man using the pool. She doesn’t want to face any kind of reality.

As Peter the doctor, Matthew Marsh continues to over act and give a performance that has nothing to do with a character and everything to do with an actor who wants you to notice him. Ok, I notice you. You’re tiresome.

Howard Davies directs in a strange way. Characters are separated often by huge expanses of stage—to show the distance between them in real life? That’s such a cliché and I would expect better of him. He does create the wildness and aimlessness of them and their relation to each other for much of it. But those scenes in which characters would talk to each other from across the huge stage seemed so odd for such an accomplished director.

Vicki Mortimer’s set looks rich, majestic and impressive until the lights go up on the stage and the show starts (there is no curtain for this show so we see the set when we walk into the theatre.) Then when we see the set of this huge house with the lights up, we see how neglected and run down it is. Stuff all over the place and lots and lots of liquor bottles litter the stage by the end of the play. This is a wonderful design from a terrific designer.

This is Beresford’s first play so patience and slack perhaps are in order. For the last half hour of it, it turns into something interesting. Secrets come out as they usually do. Judy tells her children to grow up finally. She does offer advice that sounds good. Summer interestingly reconnects with her father because Libby makes her. And thus Summer finds an ordered, disciplined, interesting new life. It might seem a bit clichéd, but Beresford shows some interesting ways with language, if a bit obvious. He has a good sense of humour and how to build a joke. I’d like to see his next play.

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