Reasons to Be Happy at Hampstead Theatre
Written by Neil Labute and directed by Michael Attenborough, Reasons to Be Happy at the Hampstead Theatre provides food for thought about life and love.
A sequel to Reasons to Be Pretty, the characters and script of Reasons to Be Happy do not appear very happy initially, nor throughout most of the play. Opening with a couple bickering bitterly, one’s first impression might be Friends meets Wars of the Roses. The dialogue seems right out of a US sitcom with some added nastiness, much swearing, and pornographic language at points, but tempered by some very humorous lines.
In a series of short scenes viewers witness the tribulations of two men and two women tied together by complex and painful relationships. It is towards the end of the play that the seemingly trite dialogue develops poignant depth and meaning, with philosophical discussions about life and love, and the true point of this piece is revealed. Rather than a perpetual spat between lovers, ex-lovers and friends, it is about the quest for happiness, and the meaning thereof.
Mirroring the characters’ narrowly focused, constricted world, Soutra Gilmour’s set design is minimal, consisting of one mobile unit. After each scene, lights dim, rock music plays, and the set is efficiently rotated. The cast is excellent, particularly Tom Burke as the non-confrontational, bookish Greg, whose educated persona seems mismatched with his blue-collar environment and friends. Warren Brown succeeds as the rough, emotional, athletic Kent, Lauren O’Neil is convincing as a feisty lovelorn Steph, and the down-to-earth Carly is well played by Robyn Addison. The script is quick, sharp and humorous, and the production is smooth and obviously well directed. Hampstead Theatre is a small, civilised and intimate venue, the type of theatre design that dissolves traditional barriers between audience and actors while still maintaining a respect for that distinction.
Those who have not seen the prequel will not know the characters’ histories nor understand why Greg is such an underachiever. However, Reasons to Be Happy stands alone as a study of romantic love and the quest for purpose, and well-crafted humour softens the gravity. Initially disturbing as an intimate view of lovers’ discontent, as a whole, Reasons to Be Happy is an entertaining and thought-provoking work that leaves its audience with a sense of revelation and emotional catharsis.
Reasons to Be Happy is on at Hampstead Theatre from 17th March until 23rd April 2016, for further information or to book visit here.
Watch a video with the cast and director here: