Friday, February 01, 2008
If I wanted to watch a gentle comedy drama about middle class marital woe, I’d switch on ITV around 9 of an evening. I wouldn’t head to the National. (Well, obviously, I would, because I did, but I wouldn’t make a habit of it).
Anyway, the play in question was Lucinda Coxon’s Happy Now?, a gentle comedy drama about middle class marital woe which is being staged in the National's Cottesloe Theatre.
It stars Olivia Williams as Kitty, the emotionally overstretched executive of a major cancer research charity, who spends her time trotting between conferences. Her husband has recently chucked in his high-flying legal job to retrain as a teacher and she has two young children at home to cope with as well as an ailing estranged father. She also has to deal with the amorous attentions of a fellow charity big-wig she meets in a hotel after one of her conferences. With her husband oblivious to her unhappiness, the man’s advances start to look all the more appealing.
The set reminded me of a hotel in Antwerp I stayed in the early 1990s, all polished dark wood and beige carpets - no soul. It didn’t seem like the kind of place these characters would actually live, where anyone would actually live, however it did allow for a bit of impressive set acrobatics from actor Dominic Rowan, while pretending to clamber drunkenly into a garden.
I learned a number of things from Coxon’s play. I learned that it is impossible to maintain any degree of grace and poise while having a cushion fight and wearing a wrap dress. I learned that informing parents that their young daughter is definitely not gifted is the best way to terminate a dinner party. I learned that my Eastern European phobia about wasting good food is so hardwired it kicks in even when it’s just bags of pretend Thai takeaway that are being chucked in the bin. Oh, and I learned that a broken Cindy doll representing, I think, broken childhood hopes and dreams makes an excellent impromptu cake decoration.
Other aspects of the play were rather less enlightening. Just as in the superbly tense Swedish portion of the Family Plays at the Royal Court, I found myself waiting for the cuddly and inoffensive ‘Gay Best Friend’ to betray Kitty in some way or turn out to be a bigger twit than the husband and his wanky friend Miles combined, to do something, anything – surely such a bland, one-note character wouldn’t have made it through the first draft – but no, nothing. I also thought it was telling that both Kitty’s two children (not to mention the GBF’s pool attendant boyfriend) remained conveniently invisible throughout; the kids weren’t seen as people but just as another problem on Kitty’s already over-burdened shoulders. And, Christ, it’s a good thing I’d polished off my G&T before the interval or the scene where a character’s (guess which one) emotional growth was depicted via the release of a pink helium balloon, might have resulted in some involuntary gin spittage.
I’m picking a lot of holes in the play, I know, but I did enjoy parts of it, especially those (too short) moments involving Ann Reid as Kitty’s frightful mother. In fact I thought most of the actors did a decent job with underwritten parts, particularly Stanley Townsend as the portly but charming hotel lothario. But while I chuckled quite frequently throughout, the play as whole left me more irritated than anything.