Sarah Hodgson, Tuesday 18 October 2011
The Orange Tree theatre is known as our pocket sized National Theatre – and as such it often airs rarely-shown plays as well as brand new works such as How to be Happy.
Artistic Director Sam Walters enjoys the risk and the freedom that larger theatres, which have to put many many bums on seats, cannot enjoy.
Writer David Lewis has premiered many of his works at the Orange Tree (Monkey’s Uncle, Bad Faith, Hurting) and How to be Happy is his latest work – and it is his first production as writer and director. The play zips along with remarkable jolliness, managing to describe both pain and loss with humour and charm.
The central character is Paul, played strongly by Paul Kemp (also an Orange Tree stalwart – Monkey’s Uncle, Private Fears in Public Places, Court in the Act). The character Paul is a former happiness guru. As a young man he wrote self-help books and appeared on the television as 'Mr Happy'. But now his marriage has failed and he is in a new relationship which also appears to be faltering; as his novel is turned down by a publisher, happiness is we feel now beyond his grasp. The cut out image of himself as the happiness guru – that used to proudly adorn bookshop windows – now appears a burden and unwanted, it gets moved around the set to great comic effect. Meanwhile his ex-wife (played compassionately by Kate Miles) has remarried a wealthy advertising executive – causing their teenage daughter, played by the excellent Kate Lamb, much moody angst and unhappiness.
As always at the Orange Tree, the star of the show is the set, the theatre in the round combining all the action – to great effect – in one space and in one time. Secret conversations are apparently unheard by fellow actors, and amazingly the two couples share the same taste in interior decor, economically highlighting their similarities but also their differences, and making the irony, as it should be, on occasion almost unbearable.
There are many chuckles to be had and I found it a fast-moving and pleasing performance with lots to think about – funny without being a farce, it used double time and double action to great effect. There’s a bit of a row raging with regards to a critical and frankly ill considered review found here. Have a look and let us know your thoughts below!
The show runs at the Orange Tree Theatre until 5 November.
Sarah Hodgson is a regular at local theatres, and Editor-in-Chief at Time & Leisure Media Group.