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Review of Happiness is a Cup of Tea at VAULT Festival

Annie McKenzie
Annie McKenzie

Like many Brits, I’m a great believer in the idea that a cup of tea makes everything better – so when the opportunity arose to review a show whose title expresses that very sentiment, I couldn’t resist. Happiness is a Cup of Tea is a solo show from Annie McKenzie, described as ‘part autobiography, part character piece’. It’s an exploration of grief and loss, but also a celebration of life and a reminder that the way we remember our loved ones doesn’t have to be eloquent or well-structured, as long as it comes from the heart.

Fiona’s mum’s just died, and she’s struggling… not least because her estranged sister Leslie gave her the news in a voicemail. And that’s not all; Fiona’s also been told – in the same brief message – that she’s to do the eulogy at their mother’s funeral, despite having had a strained relationship with the rest of the family for years. As Fiona desperately tries to order her memories and find the right words, she unwittingly delivers the perfect tribute, remembering her mother with tenderness, humour and a great deal of love.

Michael Tonkin-Jones’ direction finds Fiona making tea on a windswept clifftop, the stormy conditions perfectly mirroring her emotional turmoil. And there could hardly be a more atmospheric venue than the dimly lit Vaults beneath Waterloo Station, the rumbling of trains overhead contributing to the roar of the sea. This scene of perfect, self-inflicted isolation is persistently shattered by the ringing from a phone box beside Fiona’s bench – although the significance of this is never made completely clear.

Writer and performer Annie McKenzie captures perfectly both Fiona’s fragility and her outbursts of passion, with a frank, honest style that’s very likeable and easy to relate to. A pleasing attention to detail turns Fiona from just a voice into a real human being – the way she nibbles away the chocolate round the edges of a KitKat, for instance, or isn’t afraid to sing tunelessly into the wind, or belch loudly after downing a bottle of water. Annie’s performance covers a wide range of emotions: anger, despair, shame, confusion, and – most touchingly – pride, as Fiona relates how her mother once saved a man’s life, just by making a pot of tea.

Happiness is a Cup of Tea may not be quite the great big warm hug of a show that its name suggests – but the show certainly has charm, and carries with it the comforting message that there’s no right or wrong way to deal with grief. And that sometimes a cup of tea really can make everything better… at least for a while.

4 stars

Review by Liz Dyer

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 & 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


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