Friday, December 14, 2012

Thoughts In the Republic of Happiness

Promotional artwork for In the Republic of Happiness. (Source: Royal Court Theatre)
Martin Crimp's new piece In the Republic of Happiness is a fascinating and surreal discussion on happiness, exploring what it is and what it has the potential to become. With a fantastic cast, inspired concept, and a score of unexpected songs, the play presents the audience with a play in three phrases - happiness as it is when influenced by environment, how people personally perceive their happiness, and how happiness is dictated by other people.

I should probably preface this with two things, one being the show was still in previews (though unlikely it will change much, as the script is already published and being sold in the lobby). The other being that I was heavily jelagged, and I'd gone to bed about 4pm the previous day, so seeing a show at 7:30pm that ran to 9:30pm was devastating.

Crimp's idiosyncratic writing style is exactly what you'd expect from his plays, with reoccurring motifs, actions and subjects being shared by characters in a script that makes even the most mundane phrase have a sense of significance behind, while it's also crammed full of striking phrases ("I suddenly appeared.", "It's more than that/It doesn't go deep enough.", "I don't think you understand how happy you are."). Both are apparent in the premise of the piece, a slice of life realism and naturalism which quickly descends into the surreal when a bland Christmas dinner becomes propelled by uncomfortable and cracking tension through the arrival of the estranged uncle.

The ensemble during one of the brilliant musical breakdowns
(Source: The Independent). 
The second section abruptly segues the petite house into a sterile talk-show setting, and has the characters transform into representations of their respective age brackets - there's the young, old, middle aged, and 'about 30' year old personalities. Their commentary on achieving the five foundations of happiness is (obviously) reflective of the postmodern zeitgeist, and influenced by politics it's packed with consumerism and self satisfaction. Although the segment eventually loses momentum due to the barrage of repetitive political statements of freedom and happiness, it's a dazzling moment since it manages to be both profoundly uncomfortable but also an intriguing and somehow relatable experience. It's all topped off with bizarre karaoke interjections composed by Roald Van Oosten which are hilarious. The final segment returns to Uncle Bob and Madeleine in another sterile white room, which hints Bob being lost with dementia in a dystopian society. It's the quietest and most perplexing section in the production, and after the conclusion of 'The Happy Song' we're left in darkness to ponder what exactly there was to be happy about.

The ensemble cast, including Anna Calder-Marshall, Michelle Fielding, Seline Hizli, Ellie Kendrick, Stuart McQuarrie,  and Peter Wight, are all just fantastic, perfectly portraying their characters in correlation to their age and political identities with . In particular, Paul Ready as the sinister Uncle Bob is so compelling to watch, and his appearance and presence totally flips the style and mood of the piece. Michelle Terry, playing his wife Madeline, is also just as stunning, furthering the disruption of balance on stage and pushing the family into a deeper level of distress - her sudden break into singing was just hilarious and I adored and wanted to watch the scene over and over again.

In the Republic of Happiness is an intriguing and compelling production which examines happiness in a way unlike I've ever seen before. It's not Crimp's strongest work in that, compared to Attempts on her Life or The Country, it didn't manage to engage me for the whole duration, most notably in the middle which seems to meander too long on too many political issues. However attention is maintained through the excellent songs, and the opening scene is Crimp's typically brilliant style of hybridised naturalism with surrealism with many intelligent and humorous lines, and the pensive and unsettling ending leaves a profound impact in that is just baffling. I still maintain that Crimp is one of Britain's best postmodern playwrights, and although it's not easy to sit through it some times I recommend this piece just as much as any other of his previous works. It's poetic, brooding and compelling, and will leave you considering it for days.

Tickets for Martin Crimp's In the Republic of Happiness are £10 - £28, and is showing at Royal Court Theatre until January 17th. Duration of approximately 110 minutes. Book by visiting Royal Court Theatre's Official Website.

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