HAPPY BIRTHDAY WANDA JUNE
by Kurt Vonnegut.
Old Red Lion Theatre 418 Saint John Street London EC1V 4NJ To 24 November 2012.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Sun 3pm.
Captioned 23 Nov.
Runs 2hr One interval.
TICKETS: 0844 412 4307.
Review: Francis Grin 31 October.
The revolution will be dramatized.
"Educating a beautiful woman is like pouring honey into a fine swiss watch. Everything stops," Harold Ryan confidently tells his son, who looks back at him in slight confusion. Unfortunately, the only thing that has stopped is Harold, who returns home from Vietnam to find that the United States is now a changed country. The women’s movement is in full gear, war is no longer glorified and the ‘tough man of the house’ which Harold represents is slowly becoming extinct.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Happy Birthday Wanda June comically and sharply captures the shifting attitudes of a nation during the sixties. Harold Ryan returns home after eight years of warfare to find that not only is his wife (who now has a masters degree) getting remarried, there’s a new breed of men in town. These men are of a more ‘sensitive’ nature – they wear beads, speak about equality and consider their mind to be their prime weapon of choice. Yet, worst of all, while some idealize Harold’s outdated ‘manliness’, most simply pity it.
Designer Meg Witts captures the stale masculinity of the Ryan residence, filling it with stuffed deer heads and fox skins (Harold’s glorified ‘killings’). The added touch of the ‘roaring’ beastly door bell fully ridicules that which was once in fashion.
Alongside an excellent team of actors, director Ant Stones brings to life the comedy that is embedded in Vonnegut’s script, even at a preview. Stones’ choice to cast female actors in the role of these ‘new age men’ (wonderfully played by Katy Slater and Emma-Jane Martin) effectively adds to the clashing between the ‘new’ and the ‘old’, as well as heightening the quirky nature of this play.
Yet this production is not only about ideals of masculinity, as Vonnegut also touches on a much larger idea. If the ‘all-killing, all-possessing’ man is now being ridiculed, then what does this say about the nature of war? Vonnegut almost sums it up in Looseleaf’s line, "Anybody who’d drop an atom bomb on a city, has to be pretty dumb." This is certainly not a show to be missed.
Paul Ryan: Fiona Drummond.
Penelope Ryan: Alix Dunmore.
Harold Ryan: Vincent Jerome.
Shuttle: Emma-Jane Martin.
Looseleaf: Marcus Powell.
Woodly: Katy Slater.
Director: Ant Stones.
Assistant Director: Rachel Illingworth.
Designer: Meg Whitts.
Lighting: Christopher Nairne.
Sound: Patrick Gleeson.
Assistant director: Rachel Illingworth.
Assistant designer: Sam Strong.