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Annie McKenzie in Happiness is a Cup of Tea at VAULT Festival – Review

Annie McKenzie
Annie McKenzie

Happiness is a Cup of Tea is currently playing in the Pit Space at The Vault Festival. For those not familiar with the festival, it is in its 4th year. The Festival takes place deep within the dark tunnels under Waterloo Station, transforming the dark space into a “carnival of experiences”. It’s a London based arts festival that I feel competes with the Camden Fringe and The Edinburgh Festival.

The Pit is a dark space framed by brick walls, you can hear the trains overhead as you watch the performance. It is a very fitting setting to the piece which is is set upon a cliff facing the North Sea in the Pentland Firth. The storm is here and our protagonist, Fiona Nash has decided to go walking in this infamous suicide spot to work through her emotions having heard that her mother has passed after losing her battle to cancer.

The piece explores Fiona’s emotions as she lives through the heart-wrenching moment of losing her mother, leaving her and her sister sans both parents. A rollercoaster of emotions washes over her as sounds from storms and strong winds are played in the auditorium.

Personally I found it a bit strange that Fiona wasn’t reacting to the heavy storms and rain that we were hearing from the played sound effects, however, this may have been testament to her being so lost and numb by the passing of her mum that not even the elements could effect her.

There are some beautiful moments in the production. I must say I have never enjoyed watching someone eating a Kit Kat before, however, Annie McKenzie, who plays Fiona does this beautifully, taking her time enjoying her chocolate sanctuary whilst remembering moments from her past.

The story of Fiona’s mum’s death is interspersed with the stories of the Selkies, Scottish folklore including Story of a Selkie and MacCodram and his Seal Wife. Also we are told the modern day tale of the town that people flock to, to end their lives.

All in all we are presented with a complex and thought-provoking cocktail of stories and truths that make us face our own mortality. Which is not a nice thing. We watch Fiona talk to her younger self, regale stories of happier times and get angry with the elements.

It’s a short piece at 50 minutes, however, the time flew by as there is something magnetic about Annie McKenzie as Fiona making you want to watch her and become involved in her own folklore. She eloquently uses her voice to change the pace of the piece, show her emotions and her more gentle side. She says she is the girl who runs away and never faces things. This monologue shows us that maybe she thinks too much about things (If that is possible).

And yes we do learn why Happiness is a Cup of Tea and this phrase is etched in my heart as well as crocheted on Fiona’s mum’s living room wall.

Not a piece to see if you are feeling particular emotive and struggling with grief yourself, however, an insightful piece performed by a promising young actress.

Three and a half gold stars

Review by Faye Stockley

Happiness is a Cup of Tea is a one-woman play, part-autobiography part-character piece: an exploration of grief and bereavement which tells the story of Fiona Nash on the eve of her mother’s death. Her estranged sister Leslie has demanded that Fiona write her mother’s eulogy, but to do that she must remember. Trouble is, Fiona has a lot of memories she’s not sure are memories anymore and actually might just be dreams. Still, she’s trying. What do we do when we’re faced with our own mortality? Have a cup of tea and a sit down for a minute, Fiona will tell you all about it.

Cast and Crew
Annie McKenzie – Actor/Writer
Michael Tonkin-Jones – Director
Melanie Smith – Photographer

Happiness Is a Cup of Tea 
by Annie McKenzie
Vault Festival
Pit | 6.15pm | 24th to 28th February 2016


  • Faye Stockley

    Faye read Theatre & Performance at The University of Warwick; she went on to work as a stage manager in London and Edinburgh. She had a year's stint on-board the MV Island Escape as a Social Host and Compere and now works full time as a Recruitment Manager for the broadcast, entertainment and media sectors.

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