Do you have what it takes to be happy? In Neil LaBute’s second addition to a triptych of romantic comedies, (the third, Reasons to be Pretty Happy, has just been written), Reasons to be Happy is a heart-warming and affectionate tale of companionship and well, reasons to be happy.
Directed by the honourable Michael Attenborough, CBE, the play welcomes back to the stage the same charming characters from the first instalment of the trilogy, Reasons to be Pretty, 2011 (also directed by Attenborough who was the Artistic Director of the Almeida Theatre at the time). Greg, Carly and Steph are entangled in a bitter-sweet ménage à trois leading to some big decisions to be made. Carly, Robyn Addison, has fallen for Greg, Tom Burke (who you may recognise from television works such as the BBC’s Great Expectations which aired in 2011), who is coincidentally good friends with Carly’s tough-guy ex, Kent, played by Warren Brown (also a familiar face from the BBC as DS Justin Ripley in the critically acclaimed detective series Luther). To make matters worse, Carly’s best bud Steph is actually Greg’s ex, who, suffering from an untimely case of wanting-what-you-can’t-have, hungers after Greg on discovering his relationship with Carly. Oh, and guess what, Steph is married. So, throw a jealous ex-boyfriend, a horny ex-girlfriend, a married ex-girlfriend and er… an innocent, book-worm Greg into the mixing bowl, and we have a bit of a sticky situation.
All very American TV sitcom, I know. And unsurprisingly, since multi-talented Michigan-born writer Neil LaBute is famed for his colourful U.S. humour. It is admittedly a little discombobulating sitting in the theatre watching a play that would probably be more suited for a Saturday night Channel 4 romcom. Even so, that doesn’t make it any less pleasurable to watch. The light-hearted U.S demotic and character jives are touching; it is definitely a TV show I would watch.
Gentle Greg, who resolves his minor identity crisis by making a unexpected but valuable choice in the end, is adorable to watch. He is also a dynamic contrast to hot-headed Steph who, like a ticking bomb, explodes every other minute in what resembles a case of Tourettes Syndrome (she really loves the ‘f’ word). You would never guess that Kent is Warren’s professional stage debut; he is just as endearing. There is a lovely scene where his cheeky bruiser-boy veneer melts away and we glimpse a shadow of the soft, sensitive man that hides beneath. Carly, on the other hand, is less loveable, and puts on a cold, stone-faced front for the most part. A front that is effortlessly portrayed by Addison, though.
Yet despite the winning performances, after the ceremonious opening scene where Steph explodes into the theatre and has a stormy fight with Greg, ending with her stamping on his beloved ice-cream sandwiches, the play gradually loses much of it’s velocity. The final scene feels quite remote in comparison, maybe even unfinished, and leaves you feeling a little underwhelmed.
The play doesn’t really say anything ground-breaking about the pursuit of happiness, but it is a joy to watch. A sweet, syrupy and uplifting show. If you fancy a relaxed, no-brainer evening, this is the one to watch.
- By Neil LaBute
- Directed by Michael Attenborough
- Cast Includes: Tom Burke, Lauren O’Neil, Robyn Addison, Warren Brown
- Hampstead Theatre, London
- Until 23 April 2016
- Review by Sophie Heatley
- 30 March 2016