When: 5th October – 5th November 2011
Where: Orange Tree Theatre, Clarence Street, Richmond, Surrey TW9 2SA
£: Thursday matinée & post show discussion 11; Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday evenings 16 (14 concessions); Fridays 18 (16 concessions); Saturday evenings 21.
What is it?
How to be Happy, written and directed by David Lewis, is a play that asks questions about the pursuit of happiness through material possession in a consumerist society. Drawing on work of academics such as Lord Richard Layard and the Action for Happiness movement, How to be Happy considers what happens when we prioritise what we have over the people we love.
Paul (Paul Kemp) is a former happiness guru. As a young man he wrote self-help books and appeared on the television as ‘Mr Happy’. But now his marriage has failed and his career as a serious novelist is faltering. His ex-wife has married a wealthy advertising executive to the dismay of their troubled teenage daughter Daisy (Kate Lamb). Concerned about the state of his health, the size of his mortgage and the monthly payments on his iPhone, he is no longer Mr Happy.
Performed ‘in-the-round’, the play uses the sofa as the central device for the action to be centred around. In these days of consumerism and desire for material things, the sofa is seen as the central hub of many homes. Thanks to all those adverts at Christmas time urging us to get a new sofa in order to buy into the idea of the perfect home and family, this was quite a clever and apt setting.
The play focuses on the two homes of Paul and his ex-wife, each have the same desirable sofa but only one has the money and the lifestyle to match. The action between the homes overlaps and it is obvious neither home is a happy one. There are some fantastically comic moments involving sex and EEG caps, cancer scares and biscuits, and inappropriate birthday balloons, not to mention rubbish chocolate, expensive face cream and Shubert’s break-up music.
Paul is brilliant as the comically grumpy anti-capitalist ex-husband, nicely contrasted by Graham (Steven Elder), the ridiculous advertising-obsessive second husband. Daisy stomps between the homes in a fit of teenage outrage and exasperation while the women struggle with sleepless nights and lack of romance.
Everyone’s felt a little of the problems and pressures apparent in How To Be Happy but the play offers no solutions to modern life, instead it offers some wonderful relief for a few hours and that is very much appreciated.