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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Happy Now?
Cottesloe Theatre      Spring 2008

Lucinda Coxon's new play is soap opera of the highest order - and I mean that as unqualified praise.

It's the story of the small but very real pains and pleasures of small but very real people, who are as aware as we that they sometimes slip into cliché but who repeatedly surprise themselves and us with their complexity and individuality.

It is warm and moving and sometimes funny, and has things to tell us about everyday life that may not be major news, but that have rarely been told so effectively.

Kitty (Olivia Williams) is a better-off-than-many working wife and mother, with a fulfilling job in the charity sector, an admirable husband and children, good friends and even a gay best pal on whose shoulder to cry when need be.

And she's drowning. Trying to give her all to all of her roles, juggling responsibilities in days that just don't have enough hours in them, she finds herself operating constantly at the very edge of collapse.

And I haven't even mentioned her dying father, her madly manipulative mother or the lecher she keeps encountering at charity conferences.

Everyone in the play is more complex than my brief labels might suggest, and everything that happens to every one of them rings true.

It is totally believable that Kitty's husband, who quit the corporate rat race to become a teacher, will discover his new vocation even more stress-filled than the old, or that the social-drinker friend should prove to be a real alcoholic, or that his wife can be both long-suffering and a bit of an airhead.

Or that Kitty and her children might have brief moments of really hating each other. Or that this particular lecher might be especially dangerous precisely because there's no risk of her actually falling in love with him.

Life can be full of big crises, like dying parents, and little ones, like trying to choose a paint colour, and their drain on our limited resources can be the same.

By the end, some things have changed but nothing has really been triumphed over. Everyone just dips a little deeper into their reserves and carries on. And that rings as true as the rest.

Thea Sharrock's direction keeps everything real without ever becoming ponderous. Olivia Williams' anchoring and empathy-inducing performance as Kitty is solidly supported by Jonathan Cullen as her trying-to-do-good husband, Stanley Townsend as the slimy but still amiable lecher, Anne Reid as the mother-from-Hell, and Dominic Rowan, Emily Joyce and Stuart McQuarrie as the friends who, as in a Chekhov play, might well be the central figures in dramas of their own.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Happy Now? - National Theatre 2008

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