Anyway, back to the production we saw last week - The Last of the Haussmans by Stephen Beresford. Beresford himself is an actor turned writer and this was quite incredibly his first play. Imagine what a terrifying experience that must be, having your very first play performed at the National? I can picture the poor chap on the first night pacing the battlements (substitute - upper circle) like the ghost of Hamlet's dad!
If this was actually the case, he really needn't have worried: the cast, direction, set design, lighting etc were all superb. The play's action takes place in the house and garden of Judy Haussman's dilapidated house on the Devon coast. Judy (Julie Walters) as a young woman had left her children with her (Edwardian in outlook we are told) parents and gone off to experience a hedonistic existence in an Ashram in India. Her children, now grown-up, are not surprisingly both extremely damaged and needy. Libby the daughter (Helen McCrory) is desperate to find love and affection wherever she can get it and is for much of the play roundly condemned by her own daughter Summer (Isabella Laughland). Libby has recently been having an affair with creepy (married) local doctor, Peter (Matthew Marsh), and we sense from the very first that it's not going to end well. The doctor covers-up his sexual liaisons with Libby by exploiting the swimming skill of a damaged local teenager, Daniel (Taron Egerton), who practises daily in the Haussmans' crumbling pool. Judy's son Nick (Rory Kinnear) returns home in the first scene; he is an overtly gay addict/alcoholic who like his sister has a history of forming relationships with the wrong people.
The catalyst for bringing the family together is Judy's health scare which is at first believed to have passed but has, we learn later on, been mis-diagnosed. This is a comedy about extremely dysfunctional human beings. The script is very funny but I have to say at times I found them far too sad to laugh at - a bit like pointing and laughing at a troupe of lame dogs! However, I think it might have been far easier to watch this play live in the theatre (which is of course what it was written and produced for!) as opposed to live in a cinema. The show was often shot in quite big close-ups, which is of course never an option if you're part of a theatre audience, and personally I think it was a mistake to get in quite so close to the action for so much of the time. Actors gauge their performances quite differently for different media and what might be fairly subtle on a stage may equally appear quite broad when your face is twenty feet high on a cinema screen!
I'm not really complaining though. It's great to see world class theatre for the price of a cinema ticket and to be able to get home have a cup of tea and be tucked-up in bed by 11pm! (Is that a bit sad? Please don't answer!).
NT Live plays in cinemas all over the world; however I believe the dates can vary from country to country. In November we've already booked for Shakespeare's Timon of Athens with the wonderful Simon Russell Beale in the title role. Then in January we hope to get seats (not yet bookable last time we checked) for The Magistrate by Arthur Wing Pinero and which stars the excellent John Lithgow.