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The Theatreguide.London Review

The Last of The Haussmans
Lyttelton Theatre       Summer 2012

Here is an evening of strong performances in the service of a play that really doesn't deserve them. Come to watch the actors at work, not the vehicle they're working so hard to bring to sputtering life. 

Stephen Beresford's first play is an appraisal of the legacy and the fallout of the 1960s, that has something valid to say but has trouble saying it. At its centre is Judy, an ageing former flower child, still a free spirit and more than a bit dotty. 

Her adult daughter Libby is bitter and exhausted, both from surviving her unconventional upbringing and from carrying the burden of keeping Judy and the family together. Judy's son Nick is an arrested adolescent, moping about gormlessly like a thirteen-year-old convinced the world is a conspiracy against him. 

Also in attendance are Libby's daughter Summer, an ordinarily stroppy teenager; the local doctor, hovering about both adult women delaying our discovery of which he has designs on and what those designs are; and a young man with an open crush on the older Libby. 

The overriding problem of the play is that at no time do we believe this is a family and these are real people.

It's the artificial construct of a TV sitcom, created and engineered to allow each to carry an episode with his or her artificially constructed misadventures – or, as things turn serious, one of several families competing for screen time in a TV soap opera. 

There is the occasional strong scene or convincing moment, as when Julie Walters delivers Judy's impassioned defence of the values and hopes of the 1960s, or when Helen McCrory as Libby and Taron Egerton as her young admirer invest the cliché of the couple's silent and hesitant movement toward a first kiss with an absolute reality that surprises us with how moving it is.

But for too much of the play the admirable cast, and director Howard Davies, are too visibly working very hard to convince us that these are real people and that they belong in the same room together, without a great deal of help from their playwright. 

Julie Walters brings her unlimited reserves of charm to the role of Judy, and traverses the difficult road from being a figure of fun to the play's voice of mature wisdom.

Helen McCrory makes Libby's tension palpable and draws our sympathy, while Rory Kinnear finds all the comedy in Nick without being more than intermittently able to make his seem a part of this play. Isabella Laughland, Matthew Marsh and Taron Egerton go further toward making their underwritten characters come alive than you might think likely.

Gerald Berkowitz

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