Review – Happy Now? National Theatre

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Happy NowAnd so it was that the Whingers set out on what has officially (by a man in Cardiff, no less) been declared the most depressing day of the year in pursuit of an uplifting evening in the hallowed auditorium which is the Cottesloe “Theatre”.

And how appropriate (or ironic, depending on your take) that the piece in question should bear the title Happy Now?

But even with WEW fave Anne Reid in the cast, it would take some pretty deft writing on the part of playwright Lucinda Coxon (or more likely a bottle or two of red) to shake off the Whingers’ winter blues (not to mention the day’s hit on Andrew’s already pathetic pension fund).

Regrettably for Ms Coxon it would seem that the Whingers were in a particularly pedantic and obstreperous mood; she couldn’t do right for doing wrong.

Anyway, we’ll let National’s website set the scene:

A chance encounter at a conference hotel plays upon Kitty’s mind as she struggles to balance personal freedom with family life, fidelity and a testing job. Her husband seems more interested in misplaced apostrophes than his marriage, her parents are looking down the barrel of oblivion and, although she might toy with joining a gym, Kitty’s running out of time for big changes.

Or to put it another way, this is a play about a group of spoiled, solvent, educated, professional, married, middle class parents who aren’t content with their lives in spite of the fact that they have just about everything they could ever want.

Breaks your heart just thinking about it, doesn’t it? Basically they all just needed a good slap in the Whingers’ view.

This interview with Thea Sharrock in the Evening Standard is unintentionally revealing:

“It is a clever pairing,” says Sharrock, of herself and the play. “We’ve created this generation of women who’re forced, in some senses, to have everything. And now we’ve got it, and … well, are we happy? I think the truth is, we probably can’t have it all, or not all at the same time.”

Well, durrr.

On the positive side, Andrew didn’t fall asleep and the Whingers returned after the interval. They also chuckled a bit.

But the final analysis could be summed up as “meh” or “so what?” or – to be more specific – “Not much Anne Reid for your money” (two scenes).

There was plenty of food to contribute to Phil’s “Food on Stage” thesis (that doctorate can only be just out of reach now), but none got eaten – even the bowl of nibbles remained untouched.

What’s worse was seeing three bags of freshly delivered Thai take-away food (ostensibly – we couldn’t smell anything) which ended up in the bin unopened.

But there was a genuinely radical addition to the canon in the form of live cake decorating on stage. Phil was cock-a-hoop.

And to be fair, copious amounts of red wine were guzzled, albeit only of the screw-top variety.

Some of the dialogue was quite funny, witty almost (“You don’t make salad; it grows“), but there weren’t enough to make it into a comedy which – in Andrew’s humble opinion – might have absolved the production for its lack of dramatic tension.

Heavy handed metaphors came thick and fast – a childhood Cindy doll, debates over colour scheme alternatives running from “beige or off-white” but none of it taxed the Whingers’ atrophied brains unduly. The token gay character Carl released a balloon at the end to signify letting go of a previous relationship (Note to playwrights never put balloons in plays and never use them to symbolise anything). A projected medical life support blipped away perhaps to illustrate the characters hanging onto their sad lives, or possibly wasting them.

And then there were the frequent references to TV sit-com Will and Grace as a signifier of the difference between (straight) men and women and to underline the fact that uptight pain in the arse Kitty relates to her gay pal better than her husband.

Phil came up with his own metaphor for the play, seeing it as the theatrical equivalent of a British Airways flight from Beijing: not a total disaster but not quite getting there either (Which begged Phil to ponder the big question, do you get a refund if your plane crashes? Answers on a postcard, please).

But then the Whingers were in a particularly pernickity mood for some reason.

Lawyer Carl turns up with a bunch of flowers. “Oh you’ve got such good taste” says the character receiving them. Phil looked at this manky arrangement which looked like they’d been bought at a petrol station but dressed up with trendy brown paper that didn’t fool him for a moment (Phil invented that scam, for heaven’s sake).

Other unconvincing moments include the gym phoning Kitty to point out that she hadn’t actually been since she joined. Now, as we all know, that is exactly what gyms rely on to make their money and they never do anything to anything that might draw attention to the fact that you are throwing your money away (although, to be fair, Andrew has only six years’ experience on which to base this assertuib).

And the cushion fight was so utterly unconvincing – Natasha really should drop in and see this.

Were the Whingers happy when they strode out into the night? Did they examine their own sad lives? Not overly in either case, but a few glasses of wine soon sorted that out.

And they didn’t buy the souvenir Happy Now? poster for £5 either.


Olivia Williams (Kitty) was in The Postman and The Sixth Sense.

As has been well reported on these pages the Whingers loathe the Cottesloe auditorium, but on this occasion faced the action straight on for once. None of that in the round, square or traverse rubbish. But Phil overheard a couple at the interval singing very much to the Whingers’ tune, “Rotten sight-lines aren’t they?”

The Whingers were also delighted to overhear two women, who had to get up from their seats to let them get their ample frames to their seats. “We’re going to be getting up and down all night”.

3 Responses to “Review – Happy Now? National Theatre”

  1. Saw this yesterday – it felt like the pilot for one of those ‘comedy drama’ thingys they’re fond of screening at 9pm on ITV1.

    Though I did learn one vital life lesson: never have a cushion fight while wearing a wrap dress – it won’t end well.

  2. Rachel Says:

    Hi – I love the bitterness and resolute superficiality of this blog. You guys are great.

  3. […] of letting go of the pain of a failed relationship was a little too Disney, I thought.  (The West End Whingers also seemed to have a problem with this balloon […]

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