Hampstead Theatre, London (****)
At the end of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, the last play at Hampstead, I wrote: `Not a great play…but observationally, sharp, sensitive, comforting and true.’ That almost sums up the American rom-com that is Neil LaBute’s Reasons to be Happy.
Ed Hall, an astute programmer, presumably knows his Hampstead theatre constituency which is why his choices in his season of contemporary American drama seem to fall so neatly into the domestic social drama slot. Not too much to frighten the horses but solid and emotionally satisfying.
LaBute’s Reasons to be Happy, the second in a trilogy developing the same characters from his Reasons to be Pretty, seen at the Almeida in 2011 with Michael Attenborough directing then as now, lures you in on a deceptively innocuous tide before craftily socking it to you.
What starts out as a bickering couple – Steph and Greg – in a parking lot becomes a light but intense exploration of the very human search for happiness through romantic attachment and relationships. But, asks LaBute, is this enough? Do these make us happy?
More, he encompasses within his pair of squabbling couples a class debate as between blue collar workers and the more intellectually aspirational.
There’s a fascinating discussion at one point between Tom Burke’s deliciously laid-back but irritating Greg and Warren Brown’s combative car mechanic and football coach, Kent about the purpose – or not – of reading. Kent can’t see the point of it. `Do it, don’t read about it’, he flings at Greg.
Interestingly, Greg acts on Kent’s advice providing the catalyst for the play’s climactic end. Not a resolution and clearly to be continued…
Attenborough’s direction teases out every nook and cranny of these thirty-somethings confusions. Aside from Burke, Lauren O’Neil carries on where Billie Piper left off in Reasons to be Pretty as the all too vulnerable, grasping Steph with Robyn Addison’s security guard, single parent (and former wife of Kent), Carly, emerging as the most mature.
Greg, flicking always with good intentions between sweethearts, turns out to be a bit of your latter-day Billy Liar – not quite so fantasy-filled, but just as unreliable and the cause of much agony for others.
Greg: Tom Burke
Steph: Lauren O’Neil
Carly: Robyn Addison
Kent: Warren Brown
Director: Michael Attenborough
Designer: Soutra Gilmour
Lighting Designer: Oliver Fenwick
Sound Designer: Fergus O’Hare
Voice and Dialect Coach: Penny Dyer
Fight Director: Terry King
Casting Director: Crowley Poole Casting
Assistant Designer: Rachel Wingate