Monday, October 29, 2012

NT Live: The Last of the Haussmans

What a gem of a thing this is!

I've raved on before about NT Live, so won't bore you again with that palaver, but I will reiterate: the UK National Theatre is the best of the best, and in choosing which of its productions will be broadcast via NT Live, it doesn't have to settle for anything less than the best of the best of the best.  Whatever you see through this programme, therefore, you can be sure it's an absolute corker.

So it is with The Last of the Haussmans, a remarkably assured and "finished" first play from Stephen Beresford, with probably the most universally outstanding performances from an entire cast that it's ever been my privilege to witness. 

There's not a thing here that's not to rave about. The set consists of a wondeful, if slightly worse for wear, art-deco beach house which was so real I felt physical longing for it. I've spent the last few days trawling through real estate websites looking for something similar and wondering what I'd have to do to afford it. (Maybe in Detroit?)

Julie Walters plays Judy Haussman, who abandoned her offspring to her own vicious parents in her flowerchild youth, and has now considerately returned to them - tightly-wound, disastrous-in-love Libby (Helen McCrory), and histrionic, ruined junkie Nick (Rory Kinnear) - so they can nurse her through her final days with cancer, in the hope of inheriting the wonderful house. Which would clearly be the only thing she's ever done for them. On the way, Judy has accumulated a somewhat dodgy GP, Peter (Matthew Marsh), who covets both Libby and the house, and who sucks up to the adoring Judy with pot-fuelled Bob Dylan marathons and OTT flirtation, and a gorgeous but cripplingly shy neighbour boy Daniel (Taron Egerton).  The menage is completed by Isabella Laughland as Libby's 15-year-old daughter Summer, her every breath seething with adolescent fury and contempt.

Judy is an appalling old narcissist, whose breathtaking selfishness has wrecked the children whose ingratitude she now rails against. It's a fascinating study of how a Sixties' "Me Generation" culture has been in many ways as harmful when directed toward hippy-dippy voyages of self-discovery as towards the sort of Randian social Darwinism of Thatcher (or modern hard-right US Republicans).

If that sounds bleak, it isn't. The play is funny, witty (Kinnear has some wonderful lines) and ultimately uplifting. And very, very worthwhile viewing.

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