Having last Tuesday watched the distinctly average Rock of Ages, this week I was reminded of the power of a good play at the National Theatre. The Last of the Haussmans, Stephen Beresford’s first play, had plenty of laughs as well as some rather poignant moments. As a brother and sister return to their decaying family home to assist their terminally ill mother, long-standing tensions rise to the surface and the characters crumble under the pressure of their increasingly complicated circumstances.
Each of the characters was deftly fleshed out by the excellent cast; Kinnear’s delightfully camp junkie Nick is obviously troubled, but Helen McCrory as his sister Libby, while apparently more grounded, is also facing her own problems (many of them relating to her rebellious daughter Summer). Walters was perfectly suited to the role of aging hippy Judy, overseeing the family drama (much of which she has created) while trying to hang onto the freedom and idealism of her youth.
The Last of the Haussmans at times explicitly questions the Sixties generation and the lack of impact that their idealism had, and explores the lost hopes of their more radical days. As Nick points out, once ardent proponents of freedom and peace, many of his mother’s contemporaries have scaled back their aspirations and are running donkey sanctuaries. Yet the play is in the main a depiction of the fraught relations within this dysfunctional family, as the impact of the Sixties generation is explored implicitly through the lasting repercussions of Judy’s lifestyle on her children. Nick and Libby’s drug use and casual sex demonstrate some of the more lasting cultural legacies of the Sixties, even if politically it was superseded by Thatcherism and New Labour.
Even without the general issues that The Last of the Haussmans raises, the family politics would be enough to sustain the play; the questions surrounding the legacy of the Sixties are interesting, but more importantly the drama is thoroughly entertaining. Considering that this is Beresford’s first play, I think that we can expect to see plenty more of him in the future.