HOW TO BE HAPPY
by David Lewis.
Orange Tree Theatre 1 Clarence Street TW9 2SA To 5 November 2011.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Sat 3pm & 6, 13, 20 Oct 2.30pm (+ post-show discussion).
Audio-described 1 Nov, 5 Nov 3pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 020 8940 3633.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 8 October.
The audience, at least, is happy.
It’s not hard to guess a play with this title’s going to contain a good deal of unhappiness, and so it is for Paul, author of a self-help manual sharing the play’s title, now a novelist struggling both with publication and his second marriage to Katy, while first wife Emma’s set-up with wealthy marketing-specialist Graham, taking Daisy, student age offspring of the first marriage, unhappily with her.
Even a moment of pleasure can sour in light of another person’s unexpected response, as one person’s major concern strikes-in on another’s train of thought. As with Paul – and Graham, who, financially successful, has given his mind quite literally to improving his marketing campaigns, at a cost to his life with Emma. Playwright David Lewis creates an hilarious moment out of this, founded on a linguistic misunderstanding that shows how far apart the pair’s preoccupations are.
Lewis also varies a design trick of the young Alan Ayckbourn, whose How the Other Half Loves places two socially different living-rooms together on stage. Ayckbourn, in his comedy of cross-couple relationships, also provides a picture of English society in the late-sixties. Lewis contrasts the idealist, Fairtrade Paul with Graham, for whom technology is a home-invading means of improving sales.
Sam Dowson’s set is dominated by a huge L-shaped bench-seat of a sofa, used for both homes, often shown simultaneously, counterpointing mood and showing the ricochet of impact as people, or information, move between the two. It adds to young Daisy’s anger at one mother-figure apparently copying the other, while symbolising her perplexity over whether to choose a student future that takes her down idealistic or practical lines.
Lewis has provided another intelligent, well-constructed play that starts by spilling jigsaw pieces on stage then assembles them before exploring the bigger picture. This time he’s his own director. It’s hardly surprising he understands how to use the Orange Tree stage (it’s his sixth piece to be premiered here). With an ace cast (Kate Miles outstanding as Emma, the play’s emotional centre), his production catches numerous details of momentary reactions and anxieties within the intertwining complexities of human behaviour.
Katy: Carolyn Backhouse.
Graham: Steven Elder.
Paul: Paul Kemp.
Daisy: Kate Lamb.
Emma: Kate Miles.
Director: David Lewis.
Designer: Sam Dowson.
Lighting: John Harris.