Theatre and book reviews by Janice Dempsey
HAPPY NOW? by Lucinda Coxon
'Happy Now' by Lucinda Coxon
Directed by Gilly Fick
The Guildburys at The Electric Theatre
29th November to 2nd December 2023
An evening of immersive, hilarious, bitter-sweet theatre in Guildford.
The Guildburys Theatre Company bring Linda Coxon.’s ‘Happy Now?’ to the Electric Theatre for just four nights and we counted ourselves very privileged to be there on Wednesday 29th November, the opening night. We found ourselves following the fortunes of two well-heeled couples, parents of young children, to whom life seems to have awarded all the materials they need for happiness. But each of the marriages is on a plateau and at risk. As Kitty (efficient career woman, housekeeper and mother) warns John, her well-meaning but weak husband, at a critical, exhausted moment, ‘Something is going to happen. Something bad.’
The bad things that do happen give us two hours of witty, perceptive dialogue, moments of fellow feeling and sympathy, straightforward belly-laughs and by the end of the play the sense that we know these people and can relate to their dilemmas. None of the characters is one-dimensional; all are tragic and comic simultaneously; all seek happiness; none have found it. Even Carl, a gay man with his own romantic relationship problems, and Michael, a married sexual predator, prove to have dimensions beyond stereotypes.
The cast are excellent without exception. The anchor character of the whole play, Kitty, is played by Samantha Remnant with tremendous vigour and sensitivity; we feel for her as she is emotionally buffeted by her family and her self-absorbed, insensitive mother, June (a convincing performance by Kathryn Attwood) and the expectation that she will support everyone around her at home and at work. We respect her self-control. And we laugh with her as she deals out irony and plain speaking in response to the pressure of it all. No spoilers, but there’s a seduction scene that’s absolutely surreal and hilarious! Neil James is excellently cast as the lanky, cynical, amoral Michael and Jonathan Constant plays his antithesis as John.
Bea, Kitty’s neighbour and friend, is played by Claire Howes. Her marriage to Miles is threatened by his ennui and his disrespect for her. Her escape from frustration into a creative job and self-respect coincides with his collapse into alcoholism and dependence on his friends. Miles has some of the funniest lines in the play (superlatively delivered by Olly Clifford) but the clowning and cynical banter can’t disguise that he is as potentially destructive as John, who takes Kitty for granted and constantly adds to the pressure on her, and Michael, the hotel-room seducer. Carl (Tim Brown) is revealed as the most supportive character to Kitty and others; he is as vulnerable as she is, despite the strength both clearly possess.
This is a brilliant play, commissioned for and first produced at the National Theatre in London. Gilly Fick’s direction and the Guildburys creative staging team and excellent actors have given us a memorable production of it here in Guildford. Don’t miss it —a few tickets are still available. https://electric.theatre/shows/happy-now/