25 February 2015

Happy Ending at the Arcola Theatre was very human

As the posters says, Happy Endings was a musical about dying well and I could not miss something as tempting as that. Besides, any excuse to go back to the Arcola is a good excuse.

I booked myself a desk in our Kings Cross office for the day to make getting to the theatre easier (and cheaper) and as the weather was good enough I walked there. I took a slightly different route, walking more north before heading east, and that took me though some new and interesting places, such as the pretty gothic Lonsdale Square in Barnsbury.

Despite taking this longer route I still got to the Arcola bar in plenty of time to eat and drink before the show. It took me a moment to get used to the new set-up introduced since my previous visit in December. The bar had moved from the long wall to the short one and the food and drink offerings had changed. Both were an improvement on the previous set-up which was already good.

The front of house area at a theatre is important to me because I spend a fair amount of time there and so it is a significant part of the evening. My favourite theatres all have good bar/cafe areas with a welcoming atmosphere, in addition to the Arcola these include Bush, Park and Theatre503.

I had some very tasty falafel type thing with salad and stew. It seemed an odd combination and I was not really sure what it was (not that  cared too much as long as it was vegetarian) but it was very tasty and astonishingly good value. I hope they are still doing it the next time that I go.

I had managed to be organised enough to book a seat in the front row of the small central block, A14 for a bargain £19, where I sat facing three reclining beds.

These were soon occupied by three women who were there for a chemotherapy session as part of their ongoing treatment for cancer.

Another woman, fifty-something, joined them. She had just been diagnosed and this was her first session. She is recognised by the other women as being a famous actress.

The main theme of the play was this woman's reaction to her diagnosis and the ultimate decision she made about how to handle it. Adding to the complexity were the hospital staff's behaviour (especially the super-star doctor) and the lives of the other three other patients and the ways that they approached their treatment.

One was born in Auschwitz and was determined not to let cancer win, one was a very devout wife and mother studying to be a Rabbinical Judge and one considered cancer a kind of gift which reunites parent and child. These very different situations and approaches gave us varying perspectives on cancer and what it means. For example, the young mother's family seemed to be ignoring her condition and they frequently phoned for household advice or bedtime stories.

Despite being billed as a musical it had just a few songs so it was pushing the definition a bit. Not that I would hold that against it, a play about dying well is as valid as a musical about dying well.

The heart of the play was the four very different women brought together, physically but not emotionally, by their cancers and the stories that they told us about themselves. These stories took us into anger, happiness, regret, sadness, love and confusion. It was all very human and I loved it for that.

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