In Mike Bartlett's recent Royal Court hit, 'Love, Love, Love', the play's protagonists traded the '60s dream for unfettered self-interest, wreaking emotional havoc upon their own children. This debut play from screenwriter Stephen Beresford shows the flipside: that hanging on to the old ideals of love, peace and revolution can be equally damaging, and leave one's offspring equally (if not more) screwed.
'The Last of the Haussmans' begins with a reunion, as frazzled middle-aged siblings Nick and Libby Haussman (Rory Kinnear and Helen McCrory) meet in front of their family home, a semi-dilapidated seaside pile realised in a gorgeous sprawl of a set from Vicki Mortimer.
Nick is a gay, uptight semi-vagrant who potters blithely about the country drinking too much and occasionally hitting the smack; Libby is an outwardly tough but emotionally needy single mum making a fairly wretched fist of bringing up her teenage daughter Summer (Isabella Laughland).
They're both a mess and it's not hard to see why when we encounter their mum, Judy (Julie Walters), a gloriously unreconstructed hippy who shambles around the house in a Snoopy nightie, still spouting the revolutionary guff that originally persuaded her that it was a good idea to leave her kids with their authoritarian grandfather and go and join an orgiastic commune somewhere in India.
Howard Davies's typically handsome production draws fine performances from its three leads: Walters naturally gets the lion's share of the laughs (though she keeps Judy on just the right side of parody) and Kinnear's kohl-eyed Nick isn't far behind. But McCrory's single mother is key here, her vulnerable Libby bringing a crucial note of empathy to this trio of fuck-ups.
There is much to commend in Beresford's script – some of the one liners are a hoot, and it ultimately makes a far more nuanced argument about the '60s dream than 'Love, Love, Love'. But it's pretty thin: the first half is fun but slightly aimless; the second more purposeful, but reliant on some hackneyed revelations.
Considering that the NT could have commissioned a new play from more or less any living playwright, first-timer Beresford is an odd choice for the large Lyttelton stage. Still, a frothy comedy with Julie Walters is a safe bet for getting bums on seats during what's expected to be a challenging summer for London theatre, and if you're buying a ticket in order to see Walters being funny, you won't be disappointed.