22 March 2016

Reasons to be Happy at the Hampstead Theatre

Having rediscovered the Hampstead Theatre with Rabbit Hole I was quickly back there to see Reasons to be Happy. I had chosen to see this because it was written by Neil Labute and I had enjoyed his In a Forest Dark and Deep and The Shape of Things. Both were intelligent and disturbing.

I repeated my pre-theatre ritual from my previous visit as that had worked so well. I walked to Swiss Cottage (which is where the theatre is) by following the Regent's Canal and then crossing Primrose Hill. This was a pretty walk and took an ideal 45 minutes. I had booked a table downstairs again, or rather I thought that I had but I could not find one with my name on it so I took one of the few unclaimed ones, an advantage of being early. Their kitchen was closed, they had warned me of that when I made my table booking (!), and so I went for an artisan sandwich - luckily one of the three options was vegetarian (but not vegan). I also had some cake which I justified with the long walk there. I would have had a beer too but they admitted that they were not cool enough to have any craft beers brewed in a Hackney lockup and they had run out of the only ale that they did, Coopers.

The small theatre was set out in its normal form, that is with no seats at the sides of the stage, and I went for a seat in the area they call the Stalls Arcade which is just behind the front stalls. My seat, L19, cost £35 and had an excellent view. It was comfortable too. There is a lot to be said for new theatres.

The set was simple yet clever. The container opened and rotated to create the few settings that were required. Not that the settings, or the movements between them, were that important as this was a play about people and the things that they said to each other.

The simple premise was that a couple had drifted apart and gone their separate ways. The man had subsequently started a relationship with a friend of his former partner which she found hard to cope with. The new woman, in turn, had thrown her husband out for drunken and abusive behaviour.

The crux of the play was the relationship the first man had with the two women and this, sort of, developed into him having to make a choice between them. Each option came with implications far beyond who he lived with and there was the tricky job of trying to resolve the separate aspirations of each of them.

The fourth man (played by Warren Brown who is famous with most people for being in Luther but familiar with me for being in Grownups, the follow-on to Two Pints...) was a blue-collar distraction in a white-collar contest which gave a different perspective to the main story.

I say main story, but really this was four stories with each of the four characters looking for happiness, hence the title of the play, with varying degrees of understanding of what was required to achieve this and varying degrees of success.

Compared to the (few) other Neil LaBute plays that I had seen this did not have the I-did-not-see-that-coming plot twist at the end, though there were plenty of little twists along the way, like a pregnancy and other things that would be spoilers if I mentioned them.

Given that the play was all about the four characters and their feelings for each other this was heavy with emotion and while it was thoroughly engaging it was quite draining too. Or, in other words, the interval and the chance to grab an ice-cream were most welcome!

Reasons to be Happy was full of well crafted dialogue that was delivered well by all of the cast (Lauren O'Neil's Steph was the one that I had the most sympathy for) while the stage design skillfully created the spaces for this to happen.

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