An emotional roller-coaster. Actually, no, Happiness is really a roller-coaster about emotions. The roller-coaster bit is provided through a table on castors that gets violently rolled around Ann Holm Petersen’s excellent sterile-chic set design, whose transparent plastic chairs (love them, want one) are flung indiscriminately about the psychologist’s office with tornado-esque abandon.
Yes, Lily Lowe-Myers’s pulsating pill-polemic is an edge-of-seat dissection of the tablet-taking generation, the diazepam-dependents and prozac-poppers, to the logical conclusion of negating all emotions by swallowing the
appropriately colour-coordinated Mother’s Little Helper (as originally prescribed by Mick and Keith way back in the ’Sixties).
Feeling angry? Take a red one. Sad? Take a green one. Slightly pissed-off by a text that you read wrong? Take a yellow, or is it a blue? Or orange? To hell with it – swallow the lot. And the consequences of this, as seen through Lowe-Myers’s tightly scripted and intriguingly mesmeric play, is Sad Robot World (copyright Neil Tennant in the Pet Shop Boys song) which apparently is where we are all heading anyway.
Writer Lowe-Myers herself takes on the role of Elizabeth, the prim and proper, diagnosis-by- numbers, tight-assed psychologist tasked with the forcible imposition of emotion-numbing pills on anti-antidepressant rebel doctor,
Christine (Robyn Cooper). This pair are gold dust: what a great team – it’s not the first time they’ve acted together in their Hatstand Productions – and they are adept at drawing the audience in, creating tension, and putting on unsettling display the full gamut of emotions that are meant to be being suppressed. Elizabeth starts cold and calculating, direct and unsympathetic, charmless and unforgiving though we have detected, before Christine’s entrance, that there are chinks in her armour through a hushed ’phone conversation with someone she clearly cares about. Christine is fearless but vulnerable, outspoken but emotionally frail and the knowledge, provided by Elizabeth, that it was her husband who enrolled her in this prison-like institution, eats away at her and breaks down her carefully constructed defences.
They come up with that great trick where the two characters swap roles – Christine sits in the Psychologists’s chair and starts to analyse her tormentor in the way that she herself has been analysed. It’s a great cross-over turning point in the script that incrementally ups the intrigue-quotient and keeps us guessing to the end. No spoilers about the denouement of this little lunchtime gem but suffice to say you won’t be disappointed if you forgo the pub one day and pop along to the Bridewell for your midday break.
These two, Lowe-Myers and Cooper, give us an acting masterclass, aided and abetted by director Matt Costain, that begs… no, demands… no deserves an audience.
Review by Peter Yates
Everybody is searching for happiness. But what if it was the only emotion allowed?
In a utopian dystopia not too many years from our own, a woman finds herself at a crossroads. Does she say goodbye to regret, fear and anger or fight for the right to suffer?
Written by Lily Lowe-Myers
Directed by Matt Costain
Presented by Hatstand Productions
Starring Robyn Cooper and Lily Lowe-Myers.
Booking from 31st October 2017 until 17th November 2017.