The shadow of The Cherry Orchard stretches across the first play of Stephen Beresford: in both works family members pick over the past, powerless to save what belongs to them, a property whose sale involves duplicity and betrayal.

But Beresford, it has to be said, ain't Chekhov. He has a good, even excellent, ear for a one-liner but a debutant's sense of character and structure and the play - which is remarkably old-fashioned and about 20 minutes too long - is quite a lot less than the sum of its parts.

Walters plays the ostentatiously sexually liberated Judy Haussman, an old-style hippie, one-time Rajneeshee and full-time anti-fascist, whom age has neither wearied nor noticeably matured. She shares industrial quantities of gin and a dilapidated deco home on the Devon coast with her daughter Libby (McCrory), the sad solo mother of a sullen teenager, and they are joined by Libby's flamboyantly neurotic and ferociously witty brother Nicky (Kinnear), an on-and-off junkie and failed writer.

The reason for the children's life-curdling resentment of their mother is not spelled out until late in the play, though before Judy's first entrance it's clear that mothering was never her strong suit. But having assembled his cast, Beresford seems a little uncertain what to do with them. He adds a trio of other characters, only one of whom, Libby's judgmental daughter Summer, serves a plainly useful dramatic function.


She's a bit like Edina's daughter Saff in Absolutely Fabulous, carrying the rage that boomers' kids feel towards their spoilt parents, and Walters fits in by channelling a bit of Eddie herself (we keep expecting her to say "Darling darling sweetie darling" to someone) and much of the time mugging so shamelessly that her lines must have been audible in Dartmouth.

But if it's not exactly groundbreaking, there is much to enjoy in Davies' polished production.

The standout is Kinnear, who gave us such a splendid and complicated Hamlet in this series; apart from an unforgivably overdone bit of business with a beer can, he's the most recognisably human character, both tragic and tragically funny, and he gets some of the best lines. When the tension ratchets up, he asks, "Is anyone else feeling a bit scared?" and he means it. When he's offstage, he's missed.

Stars: 3/5
Cast: Julie Walters, Rory Kinnear, Helen McCrory
Director: Howard Davies
Running time: 160 mins
Rating: E (contains strong language)
Verdict: Less than the sum of some excellent parts

- TimeOut