I saw ‘How To Be Happy’ on the last night. Initially, after having read WOS’s review I wasn’t going to. This is one of the better plays I have seen. Funny, well written, food for thought subject matter and relevant. Yet you’d think going by Katherine Graham’s review that the event was a waste of time and money. It’s one thing for a review to deliver an honest appraisal of a play or film, quite another to be dismissive of its many virtues and instead focus on the few things that don’t work. Such an attack is not only disingenuous but journalistically incompetent.
Rather oddly the review took the time to mention something as trivial as one of the characters playing ‘Angry Birds’ – as if it was the wittiest reference in the play - but failed to mention the often scintillating dialogue, sardonic humour and high jinks farcical moments that amused and delighted the audience more effectively. To simply refuse to give credit where it is due to the rich layers of the piece (that wasn’t just about the writer ‘shouting’ an anti-Capitalist diatribe) is insulting and ungenerous. There were so many insightful and quirky moments – such as an unexpected ‘coitus interruptus’ incident when one of the main characters, about to indulge in mutual bodily chocolate smearing, breaks off and enquires if the choc bar is Fairtrade.
For a reviewer not to even care about the impact of their words and the effect on box office potential is doubly ironic when you consider that without a well attended and thriving theatre scene, they wouldn’t be able to make a living.
BBC World Service Radio reporter
- Max Kershaw
07 Nov 11
A conflation of circumstances allowed me to visit the Orange Tree for the first time which offered the chance to experience two of my theatrical aversions: unreserved seating and in-the-round staging. The first was on a par with the Royal Court Upstairs (early queues and then squeezing in latecomers) but the room is small enough to avoid some of the usual in-the-round problems of blocking, although you still have to choose your seat carefully. Apprpriately for this staging the play is heavily in debt to Ayckbourn but rather cliched. David Lewis' protests below are a bit pathetic - although the split use stage is straightforward it's his fault that the relationships between the characters take 10-15 minutes to become clear. As a comedy drama about two couples and a daughter torn between them (an impressive Kate Lamb) it's very enjoyable and has several very funny and original moments. However the anti-capitalist tirades of Paul are clumsy and implausible, particularly coming from someone who was a self-styled happiness guru. Most of the cast seem to be from a sort of Orange Tree reperatory company but the revelation is a superb performance from Kate Miles as the ex-wife torn between two partners, losing touch with her daughter and destined to be disappointed in everything. Ms Miles apparently came late to acting but deserves to be seen on a bigger stage. Getting to and from Richmond involves a long and awkward journey but the Orange Tree is a very welcoming venue and offers interesting new writing. This was almost a 4-star review but Lewis has attempted too much and consequently falls short of most of his targets. - David Baxter
21 Oct 11
I saw this production last night and am baffled by Katherine Graham’s very limited impression of what I felt was a beautifully crafted, moving and funny play. I can’t understand how anyone could fail to catch on to the over-lapping scenes let alone not appreciate them. It should be seen as no mean feat, for both the writer/director and cast, to have achieved such a multi-dimensional and affecting story on so simple a set. The impressive architectural cross-cutting, technical precision and proximity allows for a far greater emotional nuance and complexity which really added to the tensions and clearly resonated with the rest of the audience. It is so refreshing to see a new play that deals with contemporary, socio-political issues in such a profoundly human way.
I loved it! I too will be going again and I highly recommend it!
15 Oct 11
I saw this play last night and was absolutely riveted; not only was I identifying with everything said, both negative and positive, by every character, but was entranced by the performances. This a fabulous play, and the casting was perfect - an intuition peculiar to astute and fine directors. Like so many critics and reviewers, Katherine Graham is too keen to put pen to paper without giving too much thought to what she's writing, or to the effect or power of the writen word. - Carol Spear.
15 Oct 11
I agree with you Carol - i simply can not understand how the reviewer can mark 2 stars for a five star play. I'm guessing she's a bit too young to get it. - Matty
14 Oct 11
I came on this site to rave about this play but instead feel compelled to rave about its idiotic reviewer. This Graham woman is clearly lacking in humanity and I am dismayed that she may be able to dissuade more mentally sophisticated potential audience members from experiencing this fab piece. Come on WOS - hire someone with a little more emotional intelligence! I am only glad that I hadn't read her misleading critique before deciding to buy a ticket. Everyone sitting around me tonight loved it. In fact the woman to my right was seeing it for the second time in one day! I was so moved by the messages and ideologies of the play that I bought the book of the script so that I can refresh myself from time to time. Five stars for How To be Happy, no stars for thicko Graham. - Carol
14 Oct 11
I would like to apologise for the error in the casting list, which has now been corrected. However, I stand by my view of the play and judgement on it. - Katherine Graham
12 Oct 11
I am brazenly awarding my production of ‘How To Be Happy’ 4 stars as that seems to be the average of other online reviews. I object to Katherine Graham’s review, above, not because she doesn’t like my play but because she doesn’t seem to understand it at all. It really is a very odd review, and well below the standard of most WoS reviews. (At one point, she lists me as one of the actors!) One of the oddest statements is Ms Graham’s contention that the staging needs to be "more explicit to avoid the audience spending the first 15 minutes wondering why people who appear to be in the same room are ignoring each other". I have to assume this is a disingenuous statement because, honestly, you would need to be mentally subnormal to spend 15 minutes trying to work out a very obvious theatrical device.
But I could let all this pass were it not for her ludicrous attack on my excellent cast. As far as I am aware, every audience member and every other review has praised all my actors. They really are very good indeed. If you don’t believe me, please come and see the play. Judging by audience reactions every night, I doubt you will be disappointed.
- David Lewis
12 Oct 11
A great play - one of the best I've seen for ages. Simple but complex & really clever writing extremely well acted. It must have been hugely challenging but they really pulled it off. Funny, moving. - Matty
12 Oct 11
Wow – you must have seen the play on a different night than I did.
I understood the split stage pretty quickly and thereafter was really impressed with the skills of the playwright. I was enthralled throughout, and whilst I agree that Kate lamb was great, I was really impressed by the rest of the cast too.
Perhaps it is because I’m in a similar situation in my own life, and that’s something I share with many of my friends, but it really resonated with me & I shed a tear twice (most unlike me!) and laughed out loud many times. I loved it, and in fact I’m going to see it again with friends. I can’t recommend it enough.
- H Cooper
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