A new play by Stephen Beresford, Last of the Haussmans is the gritty, honest, hilarious, and heartwarming insight into a bizarre family, brought together in times of need, reflecting on their past mistakes. Upon the illness of their mother Judy, Libby and Nick Haussman (Helen McCrory and Rory Kinnear) reunite at their family home and are swept back into their childhoods with memories of shaman rituals, unusual family gatherings, and eccentric visitors. With Libby’s arrogant teenage daughter in tow, the constant presence of the silent pool boy, and unannounced visits from a doctor and friend, what ensues is a retelling of history, minor reconciliation, and ruckus from the point of views of four very uneasy relatives.
It should really go without saying that Julie Walters (who takes the part of Judy) gives an astonishing performance. With ease, confidence, and impeccable timing, she electrifies what could be a ‘kitchen-sink’ play into a phenomenally written story with lively, complex, and comical characters. Playing the almost-elderly mother, she remains cheeky with the heart of a rebellious hippie running strong throughout her scenes, even when in an apparently morphine-induced stupor.
McCrory and Kinnear, as Judy’s children, are not overshadowed by Walters in any way. McCrory is steadfast, headstrong, but ultimately vulnerable and tired as the story unfolds, and provides a devastating speech half way through act two. Kinnear, the gay, junkie brother, is wholly believable, never once slipping into farce or stereotype but rather giving a sensitive, true-to-life portrayal of a man without a lot left in life but still holding on to the oddities he has grown up around. Libby’s daughter Summer (Isabella Laughland) is defiant almost to an unbearable degree, unimpressed by this new wold she has been brought into and thoroughly disgruntled by her mother and the other crumbling relatives around her. But beneath it all, Laughland encompasses just a glimpse of innocence and tenderness that is present in every fifteen year old, regardless of the front they portray.
Two characters sit almost on the periphery of this play, and yet are vital to the unfolding of events. Peter, the doctor who frequents the house, was performed by Matthew Marsh and had an odd mix of sincerity and banality about it – being a family friend he appears part of the furniture to the Haussmans, and yet I did find him a little difficult to suss out in what was, in my opinion, a rather average part. Someone who stood out in his silence however, was Taron Egerton in his role of Daniel, the pool boy. Spending the majority of act one in the shadows around the edge of the stage, barely speaking, he gave off an air of quiet strength as well as vulnerability. Following the interval, Egerton came into his own with incredible emotion and subtlety that made me watch his every move earnestly. He is definitely an actor to watch out for.
Directed by Howard Davies on a set designed by Vicki Mortimer which featured painted pots hanging from fence posts, and kitchen walls strewn with post-it notes (which I am curious to read), Last of the Haussmans is a brilliantly put together piece of naturalism for the modern audience, relatable to those raised in the ’60s and those raised by the former, as well as anyone who’s seen the inside of numerous family arguments. It is real life, family intimacy at its most raw and natural, and a noteworthy insight into a strange, but not uncommon, household.
Last of the Haussmans runs at the Lyttelton Theatre until the 10th October 2012, and will then be streamed to cinemas across the UK as part of NationalTheatre Live.