The Last of the Haussmans: Beresford's outstanding debut

Jun 26, 2012

Stephen Beresford's portrait of a dysfunctional family captures psychological legacy of Sixties

What you need to know
Stephen Beresford's play The Last of the Haussmans examines the fate of the revolutionary generation of the 1960s played out through three generations of the same family.

Anarchic and feisty but ill and growing old, high society drop-out Judy Haussman holds court in her dilapidated Art Deco house on the Devon coast, which the family face losing.

Following her operation for cancer, Judy's wayward offspring, Nick and Libby, come to help her sort through her possessions and get her life in order.

Joined by granddaughter Summer, local doctor Peter, and Daniel, a troubled teenager who makes use of the family's crumbling swimming pool, the family delves into its long-held resentments and examines its legacy.

Julie Walters plays Judy Haussman, with Rory Kinnear and Helen McCrory as her son and daughter. The play is running at the National Theatre Lyttleton until October 10.

What the critics like
"An outstanding first play by actor-turned writer Stephen Beresford," says Kate Bassett in The Independent. The play is raw and tender and is ultimately not about bricks and mortar but "the psychological legacy of the Sixties".

Kate Kellaway in The Guardian agrees: the play is "a knockout". Entertaining, sad and outrageous, if Beresford continues to write with such power he "is going to be a major name". Kellaway wanted to watch the play again as soon as it ended.

Julie Walters plays Judy Haussman with "twinkly conviction" says Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. But it is Beresford's writing that shines through, "delighting in the savagery of a dysfunctional family". It feels like a tribute to Chekhov, "mixing spontaneous humour with despair".

What the critics don't like
While the play is certainly funny it feels "slightly under-achieved", says Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. At times the play moves into a "quasi Chekhovian register" and at others it's more like a stick of incense "trailing pleasing fumes into the air".

Acting and writing aside there is a problem with the set, Kate Bassett says in The Independent. The big revolving stage may have been difficult to light "with the rig reflected in its windows."

Chekhov looms too large over this production, writes John Nathan in the Jewish Chronicle. Beresford may be in such thrall to the Russian master that "all the acting, directing and yes, writing talent on view here is fatally diminished by the comparison it invites".

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