Friday, July 05, 2013

A Play of One Half: Happy New at Trafalgar Studios 2

A theatre scheme that offers bargains on unsold tickets is bound to result in a few disappointments. It's surprising , though, how few there are, and I've seen some  superb plays, usually on weekday matinees or Monday nights. Short notice is a major feature.

So when I saw only half of  'Happy New' because I couldn't face  going back after the interval it was a rarity

I was sorry  because the acting was terrific, with Joel Samuels and William Troughton playing  Lyle and Danny, brothers who shared a childhood of traumatic neglect. This has forged a close bond but Lyle is left as  perpetual caretaker to the damaged Danny,  who is unable to leave the flat they share. He is incarcerated by his obsessions and given to strange outbursts.

An intriguing, fairly low key start seems promising: two young men in shorts lie on beds, their faces covered in cream and sliced cucumbers. Their history as brothers and fellow-sufferers in an Australian setting is established. As part of an annual ceremony they concoct  a weird 'punch' with ingredients that   include a bottle of household cleaner  and a pot of paint.

With the arrival of Lyle's feisty girlfriend  Pru, played at full throttle by Lisa Dillon,  to announce that she can no longer tolerate the situation, the play goes into  chaos mode. The  script comprises convoluted monologues delivered loud and fast.

This is a rare failure for the author; according to the programme notes, Australian Brendan Cowell has won lots of awards and seen his plays performed in Sydney, Auckland and Berlin. Director Robert Shaw founded the company Inside Intelligence and has a wealth of experience.


The play has a harrowing theme ; in the first half it depicts a  completely shocking event which seems worse because it's unexpected.  In my opinion, the  Trafalgar Studio 2 in Whitehall, a superbly designed small theatre, did this play no favours. The action was literally in-your-face to an extent that I've only experienced once before, at a play called 'The Island' by South African author Athol Fugard, in the 1970s. I  about two feet away from a naked actor washing himself with water from a bucket. Staged in a tiny theatre in Croydon, it doused me almost as thoroughly as the character in the play.

A comparable shock value  play  was  'Life Price' that I saw at the Royal Court in the late sixties. It involves a sadistic street gang whose crime was so horrible it closed after two weeks. Tickets were  free during that time. A cheap-skate even then, I attended with my local amdram group and we toughed it out.

I soon shook off the Croydon experience, and I'd  have forgotten 'Life Price' if I hadn't written into a  semi-autobiographical novel.

Fortunately, I've seen a couple of excellent cut-price plays since 'Happy New', that  I'll be happy to write about soon.

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