Stephen Beresford's debut play The Last Of The Haussmans reminded me a little of Mike Bartlett's Love Love Love* which I saw last month, except it was better. Now I gave Love, Love, Love five stars but having seen Haussmans on Wednesday I might have to (controversially) retrospectively knock a star off. Haussmans just shines that bit brighter.
Beresford certainly has an ear for witty dialogue, like Bartlett, and is also a keen observer of domestic human behaviour but his just felt like a more rounded, and therefore satisfying, play with engaging dialogue and never a dull moment.
Both are long plays but Love, Love, Love felt it but then the former did have two intervals which always feels a little indulgent.
Haussman's is set in the crumbling, art deco, Devon home of hippy, free-spirited, fun-loving grandmother Judy Haussman (Julie Walters) who is recovering from an operation to remove a cancerous tumour.
Her exacerbated, bossy and slightly bitter daughter Libby (Helen McCrory) has come to look after her and sort out the house which she sees as her rightful inheritance. Libby is the victim of what I call absent sibling syndrome; she's the reliable and subsequently put upon child that is always on hand and often overlooked when affection is being handed out. She has in tow her surly outspoken teenage daughter Summer (Isabella Laughland).
The absent sibling comes in the form Nicky (Rory Kinnear) her drop out, ex-addict, gay brother with a penchant for eyeliner**, nail varnish and vanishing at the first sign of any trouble.
Drawn to the ebullient Judy is local doctor Peter (Matthew Marsh), with whom she flirts, but Peter has eyes for Libby. Peter has introduced local lad Daniel (Taron Egerton making his professional stage debut) to the family and he now uses the Haussman's pool as respite from caring for his obese mother but is also developing affections for one of the Haussmans.
The Last Of The Haussmans is warm and funny but underneath there are a series of very human if complex family relationships being played out and tested. Like Love, Love, Love Beresford's play reflects on how upbringing and the cultural influences of the hippy, free love era has played its part in shaping the subsequent generations and whether it has been wholly for the good.
Overall Haussmans is thoroughly entertaining and poignant made so, not only because of the script, but the fantastic cast. I'm giving it five stars. Watch out Bartlett.
* In subsequent conversations some have drawn parallels with The Cherry Orchard and I can see that, although it didn't occur to me at the time, probably because I've always found Ranevskaya an irritating character and Judy Haussman was just lovable.
** Slightly disturbed by how fetching I found Rory Kinnear in eyeliner. Starting to see him in whole new light.
Well Rory is the the obvious one having played Laertes to Mr W's Hamlet and Bolingbroke to his Richard II in the soon to be broadcast (June 30) BBC adaptation.
But not one to leave it to just the obvious connection I've unearthed a couple more. The first is also Richard II as Isabella Laughland is in that too and Helen McCrory is in the new Bond film Skyfall in which Mr W is playing Q.