Theatre Reviews: 29 June
The baby boomers provide plenty of fodder for some entertaining theatre
THE LAST OF THE HAUSSMANS
Like the wretched 52 bus, you wait for years for a play about the 1960s baby boomers and then two turn up in succession. Which might just be telling us something: that all that free love, seersucker and joss sticks have left a legacy that has not been entirely welcomed by the next generation.
Mike Bartlett's recent Royal Court hit, Love, Love, Love, concerned a couple who seized the freedoms of the times with both hands, worked hard, neglected their children, made lots of dosh and retired. Unfortunately, their offspring weren't so lucky. 'You didn't change the world. You bought it, privatised it,' whined their daughter. 'Buy me a house.' But Mum and Dad were so wrapped in one another, dancing to an old Beatles number, they weren't even listening.
The Last Of The Haussmans, actor Stephen Beresford's debut play, brings home brittle 40-something, recently-dumped Libby (Helen McCrory) and her brother Nick (Rory Kinnear), a clever gay recovering drug-addict, to nurse their mother, Judy (Julie Walters) following surgery for a melanoma. They are worried that she's planning to sell their 'birthright', their grandparents' house by the sea, which is still decorated with Judy's trophies from her flower-power period in India.
Libby's relationship with her 15-year-old daughter Summer is as tricky as her own with Judy. The household is completed by Peter, the family GP, a randy old hippie, and an athletic local lad, Daniel, who swims in the pool. Nick fancies him, so does Summer. But he's got the hots for Libby, and so has Peter. And Judy is still up for it – with anyone.
What with the unhappy family reunion, the fights for ownership of the crumbling property, everyone falling for the wrong person, it's a Chekhovian set-up. Add to that the disapproval of each generation for the one above and below, and it's a chip off Absolutely Fabulous. Beresford can certainly write, but he fails to make a convincing case for the characters of Nick and his mother. However, the brilliant director Howard Davies and some stunning performances paper over the play's cracks. Kinnear brings sensitivity and wit to Nick and one feels sympathy with McCrory's Libby who feels she's failed as a mother and a daughter. And it's a treat to see Julie Walters back at the National. Very posh, very grubby, feisty and funny – and utterly unrepentant.
National Theatre, London SE1, until 11 October: 020-7452 3000, www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
Daily tip from the lady archive
“A GRACEFUL walk is a great asset, for sometimes it can create an illusion of beauty where little exists.”The Lady. Pleasant Exercises for Grace. 2nd April 1931