Reasons To Be Happy, Hampstead Theatre, review: ‘Lacklustre drama’

Warren Brown and Tom Burke in Reasons to be Happy at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Warren Brown and Tom Burke in Reasons to be Happy at Hampstead Theatre. Picture: Manuel Harlan - Credit: Archant

Set in smalltown America, this is the second in a triptych of new plays from Neil Labute; I don’t think I’ll be checking out the third.

I can’t imagine where these characters have left to go, since they’re already seriously worn out on this second outing.

The female characters especially, are so emotionally threadbare that they’re on the verge of falling apart.

So, too, was I by the end of this uneven and brittle production.

The same four characters and much of the creative team from Labute’s first play in this cycle, ‘Reasons To Be Pretty’, have re-assembled. Michael Attenborough returns to direct, Tom Burke once again plays the emotionally illiterate and literature-loving Greg, and Soutra Gilmour has recycled her unwieldly set, which involves a huge container that rotates and unfolds with each scene.

Come the second half, I longed for that container to stay locked up and for the characters to remain silently nestled inside.

The play is essentially a game of relationship roulette, with oddly little at stake.

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Greg bumps into ex-girlfriend Steph (a brittle Lauren O’Neil), who has discovered that Greg is now seeing good friend Carly (a subdued Robyn Addison) – who in turn used to be married to Greg’s pal Kent (Warren Brown).

This chance encounter prompts everyone to question their life choices; husbands, girlfriends – and even babies – are swiftly cast aside in the pursuit of happiness.

For a play that is supposedly about love, it’s strangely reckless with the characters’ emotions.

Nothing seems to mean very much at all; marriages break down and abortions take place and barely a tear is shed.

This rather shallow set up isn’t helped by some strangely lacklustre performances – particularly from a very awkward-looking Brown (here on his professional stage debut).

By the end, Burke is reduced to muttering: ‘I have a shitload of feelings right now.’ Damned if I could tell.

Rating: 2/5 stars.