REASONS TO BE HAPPY Hampstead Theatre, NW3


I had almost forgotten seeing the first in this Neil laBute trilogy – Reasons to be Pretty – until the looming, hapless figure of Tom Burke as Greg had rambled defensively through his first anxious exchanges with the two women in his life. For Burke played the same big, amiable hunk in the Almeida’s production (directed, like this one, by Michael Attenborough and designed by Soutra Gilmour round a similar giant fold-out crate).



LaBute picks up the story of the four friends at the point where Greg, the one with college ambitions, has graduated and is going for teaching jobs while the others stay blue-collar in the factory or hair salon. But Greg and Steph have broken up, and she has married someone offstage called Tim; the play opens with her screaming at Greg in a car park for taking up with Carly – who has split from the boorish Kent, is raising his child alone and working the night shift at the factory. Steph, in the opening rant, claims that this puts a kink in the ‘arc of her friendship” with Carly. Though later it turns out that her motives are less purely sisterly, and friendship was never going to get in the way of her deciding to dump invisible-Tim and claim back Greg. Who meanwhile has got Carly pregnant.



So yes, there we are again, embroiled in the lives of four young Americans who have rashly embarked on pair-bonding and parenthood before getting anywhere near emotional adulthood. And, I cannot lie to you, despite laBute’s famous skill the first half is pretty dull: its only vivacity comes from Lauren O’Neil’s shrieky, needy, flirty, self-absorbed, proudly ignorant Steph, a portrait more misogynistic than most British playwrights would dare. When Greg tries to vary their dining experience by trying a Turkish restaurant all Steph can say is “Turkey – sounds kinda European… we live in America for Godssake, who gives a shit” before moving on to demand shrilly that he declare he loves her.



Robyn Addison’s Carly is allowed more dignity, what with the three-year-old at home, but has her own brand of neediness, begging (ah, male playwrights!) for the privilege of giving him a blow-job. Greg becomes ever more confused and verbose in trying to sort out his feelings, so that (in the brighter second half) to borrow a feminist trope it becomes like watching two fishes quarrelling over a bicycle. Or recalls a memory of Bernard Levin’s remark about Cecil Parkinson’s affair with his secretary and return to his wife all those years ago – “He seems to adopt a policy of promising to share his life with whichever lady has most recently spoken sharply to him”.



That second half certainly is better, not least in one good scene between Burke and Warren Brown as the crass action-man football coach Kent , who despises books and is horrified at the ambitious Greg’s decision to get a job in New York “Fuck! Why would you ever go there? Dude, people try to blow it up for a reason!”. The old friends, one moving up the social ladder away from the other, communicate best in the end with escalatingly violent punches on the shoulder, the last language they share. But Greg must face the final showdown with the two women, and contemplate the possibility of actually growing up.



All in all, though, it isn’t a patch on the first play. We are promised a third in the trilogy – “Reasons to be pretty happy” in which they all meet again at a High School reunion.

Box office: 020-7722 9301 to 23 April
rating three    3 Meece Rating


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