'The Last of the Haussmans' review or 'Time for the theatrical heavies to let their hair down.'

'The Last of the Haussmans', Stephen Beresford
Lyttleton Theatre, National Theatre, Tuesday 19th June 2012
Written for Ham & High 

With a cast this strong, 'The Last of the Haussmans' was never going to be a flop. This might be actor Stephen Beresford's first play but his stellar cast gleams with experience. Julie Walters is so talented she could make a turd shine brightly, Rory Kinnear is the most intelligent actor of his generation and Helen McCrory is a fierce revelation. The actors are undoubtedly brilliant – it's just the play that occasionally lets them down.

The production opens on a sprawling coastal house, strewn with fading bunting and overflowing with junk. It's as if a lifelong festival has finally been left to die. This is the home of ageing hippy, Judy (Walters), whose children have returned home to check on their mother and, more importantly, their inheritance.

It's a rare delight to see such established actors, normally entrenched in classics, let loose with a cheeky, modern play. Kinnear is a camp delight as excitable, ex-junkie Nick and Helen McCrory finds real depth in her role as stubborn, shrill daughter Libby.

Perhaps inevitably, Julie Walters steals the show. In fact, she positively hi-jacks it. With her long, grey hair and flowing nighties she looks a bit like god's wife – only much, much naughtier. Walters visibly relishes her role and prowls greedily about the stage, hunting for fellow revellers and rebels. She gleefully considers 'baking her boobs', glugs down cider and generally misbehaves.

But the play never feels on solid ground and Howard Davies, who usually directs thumping tragedies, doesn't seem hugely comfortable with this material. The tone jolts awkwardly, the jumps in time are marked poorly and Vicki Mortimer's revolving set begins to drag. It all starts to feel a bit laboured – a suspicion cemented by a horribly prolonged conclusion, which grapples about for a central message that never materialises.


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