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A CurtainUp London Review
In The Republic of Happiness
Martin Crimp’s plays often baffle me. As I settled back to the enjoyment of the most ghastly, uncomfortable Christmas dinner of Crimp’s first act, here was a Crimp play I could fully relish.
Having seen some pretty awful family at war Christmases, Crimp’s paper hated family are the ultimate feel good just because it isn’t us feeling that dysfunctional pain. Our family Christmas couldn’t be as awful as this one, not by a long chalk.
Grandad (Peter Wight) talks about his addiction to porn and time in prison, one of the teenage girls is a complete nightmare (Ellie Kendrick) and the other one (Seline Hizli) is pregnant, perhaps by Uncle Bob (Paul Ready) but she won’t or can’t name the father. Uncle Bob appears from nowhere, through a wall without a door and proceeds to berate the family hiding behind opinions that he claims are not his but those of his absent wife Maddy. Maddy turns up in a satin evening frock when she is meant to be on her way to the airport. Act One is called Destruction of the Family.
I should have known that accessible Crimp wouldn’t last. The middle act The Five Essential Freedoms of the Individual sees a long line of chairs, think a therapeutic environment in a line rather than a circle, or a television studio. Certainly there are cameras hanging from above. The conversation is a series of unattributed lines, often self divulging, prosaic truisms or mantra type speak illustrating contemporary obsessions, “Yes I invent myself as I go along. I am the one who makes me what I am.” Ghastly too, but in a different face squirming way! “I’ve moved on. I’m looking good. I look in the mirror. I like what I see.” All this self affirmation rings hollow and underlines the hopelessness and superficiality. Sometimes they repeat each other’s lines like one of those games when you have to repeat what the last person sad before you add an item of your own. They will grab a microphone and sing a bluesy song with fairly nonsensical lyrics but the sound is pleasing, the lyrics cutting.
The final act is set in a light, bright almost empty modern room looking out on a bright green landscape without trees. Here Bob and Madeleine (Michelle Terry) sing The Happy Song, “hum hum hum”, a kind of anodyne, surreal existence where words are no longer necessary, a smiling face covering what was once a real life. Bob worries about inadequacies and Maddy reassures him that she won’t leave him. Complex and depressing. Not exactly a fun night out then as Crimp casts a darkly satirical and despondent eye on the middle classes!
The performances are tip top with Anna Calder Marshall’s delightful granny who has to cope with the terrible Hazel, a wonderful performance from Ellie Kendrick, telling her grandmother that she has changed. “How?” asks her grandmother, “You used to be young and pretty, ” says Hazel. Ouch! Peter Wight tells his son that he never abused him or the mother, “. . . even though it was fashionable at the time.” Another Ouch! as Crimp out-Ayckbourns, Ayckbourn and out-Bennetts, Bennett. Emma Fielding’s passive aggressive Mother, “I’m just your mother, ” looks desperate as well she might, as mother of Hazel and sister to Bob.
Dominic Cooke directs Crimp’s provocative play as his brilliant tenure as Artistic Director at the Royal Court comes to a close in April 2013. What an act to follow! Cooke’s last play will be Bruce Norris’s The Low Road in March.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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