Whatever happened to subtley? The Last of the Haussmans at the National Theatre gives the audience a window onto one summer with a family riddled with complications, disappointments and illusions. Well what family isn`t? I ask myself, whilst simultaneously wishing that the quirky characters would shout less. Who would want to spend time with other family`s darker sides? When perhaps we all find it difficult enough to navigate our own. Emotions and tensions tend to run high when families, after dispersing, come back together to the nest for various rituals or life changing events. The gamut of those emotions can be expressed so eloquently and yet this was a chance that was sorely missed by the audience evident from their sighs. Stephen Beresford instead opted for a more belligerent style from all the characters; except perhaps the shy teenage boy who had an obsession for swimming due to his obese and immobile mother. This gave us a refreshing break from such turbulent and desperate behaviour.
Julie Walters plays non-apologetic rebel-of-rules and shamelessly goes around preaching to her son, daughter and pet boy-the swimmer-that they should do what they must to unleash their inner desires for expression and satisfaction; of course out of the name of free love. However, I can`t help but feel uncomfortable and embarrassed for her. Surely this is not how the 60`s was? Not as a vulgar and overbearing demonstration? Surely it was more subtle? Or rather, there are more nuanced ways of expressing anger, resentment, desire, exhilaration and nostalgia. Watching Judy´s gay son Nick whine, pout and perpetually collapse at every given chance to the proud gushing delight of his mother made me want to head for the nearest exit. I never had any patience for this sort of behaviour, even less for the endorsement of it. Perhaps that was Beresford`s point? To shock us into a feeling of despite and disgust for the characters who have gone a little too far on 60`s idealism? Dragging their offspring through the naivety of it, only to land them in an even greater mess when they returned to reality-which was to find themselves in remnants left from nasty Thatcher-Regan capitalism, that had pulled the wool over their eyes as they were too busy on a high? If so, then clearly Beresford doesn`t have patience for the 60`s generational manifestations. Perhaps this was his message, I thought. However, I was quickly confused again, when he seemed to place Judy, the reluctant matriarch, exactly back on the pedestal that he had so violently shaken her from through a torrent of hate spurted from her spoilt and wasted son.
There were moments of sadly funny humour that evoked first laughter then pity at the disaster that was left in the wake of high moral ideals lost in alcohol, shaky fake Hindu spirituality and open sexuality. If Beresford wanted to say anything positive about the 60`s generation, it must have been something along the lines of the lack of desire for possessions and rootless to one`s sense of home, but again, this message is contradicted as Judy is outraged at the loss of the house, pointing profusely out that she had been saving this diligently for her children. Furthermore, I would say rootlessness is less a part of 60`s generation and more a general condition of late capitalism that we all are in. "Everything solid melts into thin air" as Marx once said. The themes that are raised about what the 60`s generation left behind them, is a valid and important one, but it is like all the pertinent issues that could have been explored were lost in a wake of hazy alcohol-fueled illusions and disappointments. If this was a piece of music it would have been done by a drunk Shostakovich who had gone a bit heavy on the crescendos.