Happy Now? was a huge hit for the National Theatre when it was first staged in 2008. So it took a brave man to bring this tale about the complex lives of London’s middle-classes up North, three years later, to a city trapped firmly in the teeth of a raging recession, where securing any job on a short term contract paying the minimum wage is seen as a major achievement by the majority.
So does it work? For me the sunken set resembling a bomb crater, and I do see the significance of it, reminds me of watching an episode of the Sooty show. The play appears to be performed from behind a barricade. Even from my lofty position, three rows from the back, I can only see the top half (lovely though it is) of the actors which I find distracting.
Matthew Lloyd's production is full of the type of people you would not invite to your own dinner party, apart from Carl (Christopher Colquhoun) the gay and least shallow friend of the two married couples. Colquhoun’s character at least had some sensitivity and compassion, although completely lost on the others. Most obnoxious was Michael (George Costigan) the predatory, smooth talking, womaniser, apparently found at most seminars.
With his soft Irish accent (so soft it is difficult to hear in the opening scene), Michael preys expertly on the main character Kitty (Kaye Wragg). Kitty spurns his greasy advances until later, when her hectic life-style of combining a stress full job with motherhood, a husband who is too wrapped up in his own work to notice and a mother (George Costiganagain) who speaks to her like a schoolgirl, throws her back into the arms of Michael with unexpected results.
Throw into the mixing pot Kitty’s best friend Bea (Rina Mahoney) and her husband Miles (James Holmes) who’s character turns out more fake than his tan, and who eventually ends up leaving Bea, to move in with Kitty and her teacher husband Johnny (Jonathan Wrather), after a huge bust-up over the choice of the children’s schooling, and you have the story of every day life in the leafy suburbs. But how many people in the Grim North will relate to it?
Lucinda Coxon has skilfully woven a tale of intrigue with some delicious dialogue. Miles, sweet talking Bea with a classic “If woman were a domino you’d be a double blank”. Quite. A brilliant portrayal of the kind of people we love to hate? Perhaps...