Directed by Howard Davies
Pros: A cast that makes you go ‘wow’, a stunning set, and some wonderful individual performances.
Cons: Some conversations didn’t seem quite real, despite it being a naturalistic production.
Our Verdict: This play will do very well with the cast it has but there’s something not quite there. Yet.
|Courtesy of the National Theatre|
The first play written by actor-turned-playwright Stephen Beresford, The Last of the Haussmans follows an ailing hippy (Julie Walters) and her dysfunctional family throughout one summer in a rundown art-deco house on the coast of Devon. Returning to the National for a change of pace after his run as Hamlet, Rory Kinnear plays a recovering drug addict still partial to the booze, the boy next door and nail varnish. Helen McCrory plays his sister who is trying to hold the family together. Add to this mix her daughter (Isabella Laughland), a teenager delicately balancing resentment towards her family with maturity beyond her years, the aforementioned ‘boy next door’ (Taron Egerton) and a middle-aged GP letting loose his hippy side (Matthew Marsh), and you’re in for a bumpy 2 hours 45 minutes!
As always, upon entry into the Lyttelton, you’re struck by the set. The centrepiece of Vicki Mortimer’s magnificent design is an art deco house left to ruin as evidenced by the moss growing up the walls, the dirty windows and the weather-beaten pots, bunting and old toys in the garden. The prayer flags flanking the sides hints at the idea of a commune and the invasion of nature on the stage really sets the audience in the mood for what is about to come.
McCrory gives the strongest performance, an accomplishment considering who her co-stars are! Her character spends the entire summer having to help others and is, understandably, feeling the strain. Her subtle emotions resonate clearly with the audience, bringing us into total sympathy with the character. Kinnear creates, as always, a very engaging character, showing the tragic loss of potential caused by his drug addiction. A reference in the play to the character’s fine use of words is reflected in the fantastic casting of Kinnear, his smooth voice pitch perfect for the lines he has been given.
I cannot review the play without mentioning Walters. It is great to see her join the ranks of women like Celia Imrie (currently in Noises Off) and Imelda Staunton (Sweeney Todd) on stage in London. It seems like the character was written for her; she flounces around the stage in her dirty pyjamas and dressing gowns, the slightly loopy matriarch of the piece, and is as excellent as is to be expected. Nothing feels forced or unreal, Walters is a star; I can sit back and know that I’m going to enjoy watching, regardless of the material.
The writing was admirable for a first time writer, but the odd sentence felt forced and unnatural, not in line with the realism of the rest of the play. There were also moments where the play would switch from comedy to tragedy within one sentence, and my fellow audience didn’t seem to cotton on to that as quickly as the writer might have liked. In addition, despite being relatively fast-paced in places, at 2 hours 45 minutes the play is a long one. Saying this, I do think once into the full run, the actors will shave another five minutes off which will probably make it a more suitable length.
All in all I enjoyed this play, but as much as I’d like to give it four stars there was something lacking. It was nothing major, and it’s very hard to put a finger on exactly what it was, but it boils down to the fact that despite this being a naturalistic piece with a magnificent naturalistic set and some wonderful individual performances, the show doesn’t quite feel real in places. It’s not all gelling as it should yet. However, it’s early days. Give it a bit more time to iron out these issues and it will probably deserve it’s fourth star!
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The Last of the Haussmans runs at the National Theatre until 10th October 2012.
Box Office: 020 7452 3000 or book online at http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/69914/productions/the-last-of-the-haussmans.html