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Happy Ending – Garden Theatre Summer Festival | Review

You are on any dating apps, you may occasionally come across one offering massage services. There are usually two types of people offering massages on apps. One is perfectly legit and an hour under their hands can help you relax and ease your tired muscles. The other is, well let’s be honest, dodgy as hell. But how do you tell the difference between them? Well, there are usually two special words that give the game away. These words are Happy Ending, which interestingly is the name of the fourth play in the Garden Theatre Summer Festival at St Gabriel’s Church Hall, Pimlico.

Happy Ending - Garden Theatre Summer FestivalAndy (Sean Huddlestan) is a massage therapist in Fort Lauderdale. He has worked hard to get where he is. After spending $15,000 and two years training, Andy is now the proud possessor of a small studio with a regular clientele coming in for his services. Today, a new client has arrived in the shape of Mr Miller (Michael Batten) a young man with aching shoulders and a no-nonsense approach to life and massage. Miller appears very wound tight and twitchy and makes it perfectly clear to Andy that he has come for a massage and nothing else, which is fine with Andy as he is a professional masseur who would never overstep the boundary between client and practitioner. Andy starts to work on Miller and, as the session goes on, conversation and events take an unexpected turn.

The tagline for Happy Ending is “A gay man, a straight man and a massage table, what could possibly go wrong?” Seeing this, Mr Know-It-All here immediately decided in his head what was going to happen and how the show was going to pan out. And once again, when making assumptions before seeing the show, I was wrong. Writer Ronnie Larson, does an excellent job at turning what could be an obvious situation into a really interesting and absorbing hour-long story of two people who may or may not be everything they claim. The story weaves in varied themes such as politics, sexual orientation, economic class, social media and even discourses on Steely Dan and Adele. It’s difficult to say too much about the story without giving away one of the many twists and turns that unfold, so I will just say, go in with your mind and eyes wide open.

The performing space in St Gabriel’s Church Hall is perfect for this show, and with the addition of a very comfy looking massage table, and the various accoutrements associated with the profession it looks and feels like a proper massage studio. Huddlestan and Batten really bring the story to life as Andy and Mr Miller respectively. Huddlestan’s Andy is the consummate professional, happy to reassure his client of his legitimacy and willing to establish a good rapport with someone that is ostensibly his polar opposite in order to get the job done. Batten probably has the harder job as an actor. Mr Millers enters Andy’s studio full of bluster swagger and MAGA, making his position clear from the first moment. But as the play progresses, and his guard drops, Miller’s true personality starts to come through, making him a much more sympathetic character all round.

Together these two actors, under Director Peter Bull, give Andy and Mr Miller flesh, blood and personality. The chemistry between them and the writing take the audience on a roller coaster of emotions with moments of laughter, campery, great music and surprising emotional outbursts all flowing together to produce a really fascinating piece of theatre.

Sometimes I think we jaded theatregoers do need a kick up the backside to remind us not to jump to assumptions, and Happy Ending really does that. Not only was I highly entertained, but I also took away some knowledge. Don’t rush to judge and how Steely Dan got their name. Two lessons learned from one show, if that’s not a happy ending, I don’t know what is.

As I left the show and headed home, I thought about my three trips to the Garden Theatre Summer Festival. Lambco has put together an excellent series. The shows have been varied in style and substance, but each of them has worked providing first-rate entertainment throughout. For me, it’s been like a mini Edinburgh, and I really hope they do something similar again – soon!

5 Star Rating

Review by Terry Eastham

Happy Ending introduces you to a simple, perfectly professional massage therapist who goes about his day job never knowing who his next client might be. When a new customer walks in the door — full of conflicting signals, hidden agendas and forbidden topics — all of the job’s usual decorum goes out the window. Watch as rules get broken, skin gets bared, the truth gets twisted and things get steamy in playwright Ronnie Larsen’s sexy two-character play Happy Ending.

Cast
Mr Miller: Michael Batten
Andy: Sean Huddlestan

HAPPY ENDING
a comedy by Ronnie Larsen
Directed by Peter Bull
A gay man, a straight man and a massage table…
http://gardentheatre.co.uk/

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