How To Be Happy – October 2011

6/10

By: David Lewis

Directed by: David Lewis

Venue: Orange Tree Theatre

Date: Thursday 20th October 2011

This play, written and first-time directed by David Lewis, is a look at consumerism and the ways in which it prevents increased happiness in society. It’s a patchy piece, with overlapping scenes in two houses which have identical sofas, and while there was some excellent humour and five excellent performances, it never seemed to have a clear focus; a scatter-gun approach instead of laser precision.

In one house live Paul and Katy, his second wife. He’s a semi-successful writer who went through a rough patch when his marriage to Emma broke up several years before, and who wrote a self-help book about being happy based on his experiences at that time. Katy is a primary school teacher, who was attracted to Paul because of his book. When she met the real man, she realised he wasn’t anything like her image of him, but decided to marry him anyway; it’s clear they’re not suited to each other.

Emma and her new husband, Graham, aren’t a great match either. He’s an advertising ‘guru’, always focused on the newest way to get into the consumer’s mind so he can sell, sell, sell. In this play, he’s trying out a very direct method for getting into people’s minds – an electro-cap which is connected (by wires – very old-fashioned) to his laptop so he can check up on his own brain activity. He does attempt to use the cap while making love to Emma, but the absurd look of him, plus some unexpected news, puts her off. Mind you, she’d thought Graham meant a different sort of cap! – we weren’t fooled.

Also living with Graham and Emma are Daisy, the soon-to-be-eighteen daughter of Paul and Emma, and Jack, Emma and Graham’s new baby. He’s giving them a lot of sleepless nights, which seems to be putting their relationship under a lot of strain, but is it? Or is just stopping them from dealing with their real issues?

The two houses are fairly close, so Daisy in particular keeps popping back and forth until leaving home ‘forever’ on account of her guilt at causing her parents’ divorce. Unfortunately, Emma then freaks her out by finally telling her that the reason she and Paul split up was that he had an affair – too much for the sensitive young thing to take. She’d already walked in on Emma and Graham’s attempt at sex with the electro-cap – too gross for words!

With Paul believing he’s got lung cancer, and then finding out he’s been misdiagnosed and has something less deadly (not good with medical lingo – sorry) there’s a fair amount of life’s ups and downs packed into the first half, never mind the whole play. There’s also a lot of humour in the way Katy doesn’t know how to react to Paul’s ‘good’ news; she takes another bite of her biscuit before responding, which tells us a lot about their relationship as well as giving us a huge laugh. But my favourite joke of the afternoon happened when Paul apologised to Katy for misleading her when he pretended to be a success story. Her tart reply – ‘I’m not a fool! I never thought you were a success story’ – really put him in his place. And in his underpants, too.

So, not a searing indictment of consumer capitalism, but a fairly enjoyable couple of hours at the theatre with some good laughs and excellent performances.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

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