The Theatreguide.London Review
To Be Happy
Hampstead Theatre Spring 2016
Neil LaBute's play is a companion piece to his earlier Reasons To Be Pretty, which you might have seen at the Almeida in 2011 and might even remember.
In that play the marginally more attractive of two women was labelled The Beautiful One, and everyone's relations with her and with each other were coloured by that perception.
LaBute now picks up the same four characters a few years later (with new actors), though they do not seem to have matured much from their earlier experience.
Greg and Steph (the not-pretty one) have split up and she has married another guy we never meet, while Greg is now with Carly (the pretty one), who has split from her husband Kent, who is with a new girl we never meet.
The play's opening scene is devoted to Steph screaming at Greg in rage, but she abruptly announces that she wants to get back with him (and has left her husband for him), just as Carly announces that she's pregnant.
So far, a conventional, almost by-the-numbers rom-com. But after the interval LaBute deepens things by forcing Greg, who has the backbone of a marshmallow, to see that he really has to make some decisions and, more importantly, that any decision or non-decision is going to cause real pain to somebody.
That was essentially the structure of Reasons To Be Pretty as well, an essentially comic situation abruptly turned serious with the revelation that, unlike most comic characters, these figures are capable of real emotion and therefore in danger of real pain.
Unfortunately – small spoiler alert here – having taken his characters into more serious territory, the playwright waffles irritatingly by giving Greg some New Age bumph about needing to find himself before he can commit to another.
That it's a total cop-out for Greg is excusable if that's the playwright's view of his character. But the total cop-out by the playwright, who lets the character get away with that at no cost to him, is less easy to accept, and makes Reasons To Be Happy end on a sour, unsatisfying note.
I assume director Michael Attenborough was making a point about the interchangeable nature of the characters by casting two actresses who closely resemble each other as Steph and Carly, but it means that every time one enters a scene (especially if her dress or hairdo has changed) it takes a few seconds to figure out which she is.
Lauren O'Neil generates some energy as the passionate and occasionally manic Steph, but Robyn Addison is wooden as Carly. Warren Brown is given almost nothing to do as the underwritten Kent, except for an out-of-nowhere lecture to Greg on the need to act and not just think about his problems.
Tom Burke as Greg carries much of the show and makes the progression from passivity to waffling believable, but he can't sustain much sympathy for Greg in the process.
Reasons To Be Happy is a play that promises more meat than it delivers, and leaves you feeling cheated.
Review - Reasons To Be Happy - Hampstead Theatre 2016
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