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Happy Hour at Gatehouse Theatre

To borrow from Princess Diana’s remark about there being “three of us” in her relationship with Prince Charles, there’s a similarly odd number of participants in the pairing of George and Jacqui in Andy Walker’s Happy Hour at the Gatehouse Theatre.

Happy Hour. Credit Ross Kernahan.
Happy Hour. Credit Ross Kernahan.

This third party is less human than diabolical, being the demon drink. No half measures here since it is plain from the off that the two are as dependent on the booze as they are on each other. When they don’t have it, they’re craving it. When they then give it house-space in their brains and bellies and all points south, they are so taken over by its effects that they cannot offer each other a true version of themselves.

This self-mutation hardens into nothing less than self-mutilation, with drink hanging in there and playing merry hell with their identities. In this respect, the knowingly misnamed Happy Hour is a direct descendant of Edward Albee’s classic portrayal of a self-liquidating couple, George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

You – the audience – are not the only ones to balk at the supposedly funny side of the pair’s mood-altered altercations and self-piteous onsets of remorse for another night – make that nights-plural – on the tiles. For Jacqui has a daughter, Rosie, and a grandchild, neither of whom she deserves on account of her juiced-up self-obsession and her unlovely lurches between staged contrition and paralyticism. (If there isn’t such a word, there jolly well should be, though George and Jacqui are in no state to own it, let alone pronounce it.)

Deftly directed by Lesley Manning, the couple’s life is a continuing round (as in “Mine’s a large one”) of topping-up, going over that top, comedowns and hangovers, ludicrous plans not worth the name, half-arsed pledges of abstinence and so on. She does have a job, but then loses it. No prizes for guessing why. George’s means are not entirely transparent, though his principal skills lie in the literal and figurative areas of sponging.

Whenever the initials AA crop up in the ranting – the ones that don’t stand for Automobile Association – they mostly draw contemptuous snorts on the grounds of that organisation’s supposedly sinister intents. When it comes to instilling nameless fear, nothing beats the unknown.

How did/does Rosie manage to blossom, like her name, into effective adulthood and motherhood? If she’s in search of a father figure, her own mother’s lover/loather George is mercifully absent from the shortlist. As a visitor to the vicious triangle of Jacqui, George and Grog, it’s she who brings a welcome whiff of adulthood to the proceedings. In this respect her role is rather that of a non-comedic Saffie, Edina’s daughter in Absolutely Fabulous.

One interpretation of Rosie’s ever-so-welcome levelheadedness is that she has no wish to follow down her mother’s chaotic and maybe lethal road. Aversion therapy in action.

I’ve no idea how or where the playwright Andy Walker researched his material, but his handling of drink’s spiked promise does bear the flavour of authenticity.

So too do Stacha Hicks’s Jacqui and Derek Murphy’s George, both at war with the legal drug which, down the wrong throats, can wreak as much havoc as the Class A stuff. She hardly deserves her Rosie – played with strength and tenderness by Ellie Philpott – but the young woman’s presence, and indeed future are crucial to a positive reading since it is she who is not only calling time on her mother, but cradling the time to come.

4 stars

Review by Alan Franks

Jacqui has a problem: herself. She’s controlled by an internal demon named George. George is everything Jacqui would like to be: funny, attractive, sociable. But George’s purpose is tempting Jacqui to drink alcohol. Jacqui doesn’t need much tempting. And drinking is killing her.

Happy Hour
May 16th – 28th
1h45m (with interval)

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  • Alan Franks

    Alan Franks is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows, as well as reporting on press launches. Alan Franks was a Times feature writer for more than thirty years, specialising in the arts and interviewing many leading actors, writers and directors, including Arthur Miller, Peter Hall, Woody Allen, Judi Dench and Stephen Sondheim. He is the author of several plays, including The Mother Tongue starring Prunella Scales, and his latest novel, The Notes of Dr. Newgate, is published by Muswell Press. http://www.alanfranks.org/

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