Happy Ending at the Arcola
Musicals about terminal cancer are few and far between: the Arcola’s punt at one in Happy Ending has shown that perhaps this is for good reason. Beginning with the show’s bizarre categorisation – a play with four songs is not a musical by any stretch – the overall attempt to cast new light onto a complex topic is bungled by irrelevant tangents, poor choreography and an inexplicable tango with an actor wearing crab claws.
Late Israeli playwright Anat Gov’s hospital drama clearly aims to break taboos concerning a patient’s right to choose. Hilla Bar’s adaptation, directed by Guy Retallack, is unnecessarily relocated to an English setting, and strangely attempts to tone down the play’s Jewish undercurrents. The result is a half-baked mixture of cliché-ridden dialogue and obvious plot holes.
That famous actress Carrie Evans (Gillian Kirkpatrick) has managed to be diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer and admitted onto an oncology ward for her first chemotherapy session, without being told what “stage four” means, is implausible at best. Her subsequent decision to end her treatment after what appears to be less than a couple of hours in the hospital, is similarly hard to follow.
A spirited ensemble of other cancer patients and hospital staff, while providing laughs, fails to add authenticity to a drama that feels hamstrung by its concept, and so doesn’t account for basic reason. Cases of cancer patients refusing treatment in favour of palliative care are hardly unusual.
Combined with ill-timed songs that do nothing for the narrative, these distractions undermine the sanctity of life debate, making Evan’s character seem irrational and ill-informed, rather than a woman taking control of her own fate. Perhaps a more useful discussion would be how to portray cancer without seeming to trivialise it.
Photos: Piers Foley
Happy Ending is on at Arcola Theatre until 7th March 2015, for further information or to book visit here.