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The Last of the Hausmanns

I like doing theatre at the National. Southbank has much more of a cultural event feel about it - particularly at night after one leaves, being able to take a moment to appreciate the illuminated some of St Paul's. The last play I saw there was Hamlet, played by Rory Kinnear, who was astounding. So it was with some expectation that he was also starring in Last of the Haussmanns - although he has to contend with the household name of Julie Walters, who plays the last Haussman of the title. Judith Haussman, or Judy as her grown up son, Nick, (Kinnear) and daughter, Libby, (Helen McCrory) also call her. Nick, a former drug addict, has returned home to the dilapidated art deco family home on Brighton's coast after a lengthy absence. He is gay and wears make-up, yet I could still see, in some scenes, the shadow of his late father. Maybe because this is a comedy - a somewhat dark one - but a comedy nonetheless. He has squandered whatever talent he may have had and, although a former drug addict, still has the demon drink p deal with. But then, it would seem they all have this to contend with. Helen McCrory as Libby is the strongest presence throughout and her anger is visceral; anger towards her hippyish Mum, anger towards her brother, anger towards herself. She is the one who has tried to hold a sense of responsibility close, yet, from the waspish exchanges with her 15-year old daughter, we also learn that she too has played the wandering Mum. Add a seemingly disaffected pool boy to the story, and a family doctor who also joins the party early one but who sets off alarm bells, and an inheritance, and there are a lot of dynamics flying around. To view this family and their social context - having become the house that has let the otherwise classic high-end second-home territory down - is to see the whole play as a statement on the baby boomer generation. Judy represents the travelling hippies in the sixties who, as they age and face health issues, have to depend on their kids to mop up afterwards. The same adult kids who then struggle to get any property of their own. It's all here, with Judy urging them, during one particularly powerful kitchen scene, to live light; not to focus on possessions. A statement for our times, perhaps, as the second-homers continue to take it in in the city, buying expensive second-homes whilst locals priced up and out of these areas.
It is a marvellous script from debut playwright and seasoned actor Stephen Beresford; to have a debut play staged at the National is no small achievement. The dialogue is sharp and hits a regular beat and the characterisation couldn't be faulted. The audience loved it. The comedy achieved the a tone that made way for a poignancy that lingered after the final curtain.


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