IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS
by Martin Crimp.
Royal Court (Jerwood Theatre Downstairs) Sloane Square SW1W 8AS To 19 January 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 15 Dec, 5, 10, 12, 17 19 Jan 2.30pm no performance 23 Dec-1 Jan.
Audio-described 19 Jan 2.30pm.
Captioned 15 Jan.
Post-show Talk 8 Jan.
Runs 1hr 50min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7565 5000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 12 December.
A play of ideas.
In Martin Crimp’s Republic of Happiness there is, it’s almost needless to say, no actual happiness. Instead, be it round the opening family Christmas dinner, obviously set-up to fall apart in rancour and contradiction, or in the anonymously garish line-up suggesting a TV discussion, where everyone falls over each other asserting their independence in chains of near-identical phrases, or in the final duologue where the family escapees stand isolated in a bare room overlooking a field and river combining placidity with desolation, people are obsessed with the idea of being happy.
It’s a long-term human pursuit but this is the age which has made the objective seem attainable. Past ages, old people, are despised. What matters is gaining happiness and perfection on earth through lifestyle choices. But, Crimp zestfully displays, the more we try being happy the more worried we become about not being happy, while the more people fancy themselves as happy individuals the more uniform they become.
The dowdy Christmas family dinner, with paper-hats on heads and discontent beneath the official cheer, and the bright impersonal individuality of the trendy central studio set-up are contrasting modes of misery. And the final pair, ingeniously brought from under the talk-deserted studio by designer Miriam Buether, can only struggle towards something, at least not weighed down by others – though their glass room is bare as a cell.
Perhaps that’s where matters have to start. Songs provide a sideways commentary along the way, from the assertive violence of the family’s young women to a looked-for ‘happy song’ at the end.
Dominic Cooke directs with slick fluency and the cast play with well-judged fervour, giving the opening scene an energy its content, spiced though it is with indeterminacy (surely theatre’s gone beyond the stage when simply being self-contradictory is a sign of supposed profundity) barely sustains.
Crimp’s piece uses form to express its ideas in a way as individual as his studio characters fail to be. As a lecture-demonstration it’s invigorating, but as a play it’s made its points and shown its stylistic hand long before it moves on or reaches an end.
Debbie/Teenage Girl 1: Seline Hizli.
Mum/Middle-Aged Woman: Emma Fielding.
Hazel/Teenage Girl 2: Ellie Kendrick.
Granny/Old Woman: Anna Calder-Marshall.
Grandad/Old Man: Peter Wight.
Dad/Middle-Aged Man: Stuart McQuarrie.
Uncle Bob/Man of About 30: Paul Ready.
Madeleine/Woman of About 30: Michelle Terry.
Director: Dominic Cooke.
Designer: Miriam Buether.
Lighting: Peter Mumford.
Sound: Paul Arditti.
Composer: Roald van Oosten.
Musical Director: James Fortune.
Video: Jack Henry James.
Costume: Moritz Junge.
Assistant director: Adele Thomas.
Assistant designer: Lucy Sierra.