Sunday, 5 February 2012

Theatre review: Happy New

Apparently the weather's currently so cold that EVEN that Old Red Lion's claustrophobic space isn't turning into a furnace, and I needed to keep my coat on for the second act. Although this Sunday matinee wasn't that well-attended so maybe it was the lack of body heat that made the difference. A shame as, although I can see that Happy New won't be to everyone's taste, there's plenty about Brendan Cowell's play that deserves an audience. As children, Danny and Lyle were abandoned by their mother in a chicken coop, and not found until a couple of months later, on the brink of starvation. We meet them several years later, now sharing a small flat. Lyle (Joel Samuels) is still obviously psychologically damaged while Danny (Alfred Enoch) appears on the surface at least to be calm and well-adjusted, even having a relationship with Pru (Josie Taylor,) the TV journalist who first reported on their story. Enoch has had a lower profile than some of the other Harry Potter alumni (he played Dean Thomas in the films) which turns out to be because he's been studying at Oxford. Judging from his performance here we'll probably see more of him now he's graduated. Then again, just judging by his shirtless scenes I suspect he'll find an interested audience.

I haven't seen a vast amount of Australian theatre but it does seem to produce some rather odd plays, which as the plot summary probably suggests, is also often the case with this one. The brothers talk a lot about moving on and getting jobs in the outside world, but in reality they're barely able to leave their flat, and in times of stress prefer to think of themselves as chickens. Where I was less able to get to grips with the play was in the changes in tone; at times the production has an absurdist, surreal tone (not entirely down to director Robert Shaw, as the play's dialogue sometimes takes on a Beckettian feel - no prizes for guessing those were my least favourite parts) yet the majority of the play is pretty naturalistic, which is where the strongest performances come. Taylor suffers the most from these stylistic jumps as her first appearance is for a particularly over the top monologue, so it takes a bit of work in subsequent scenes for her to make you realise she does in fact have an idea of what a human behaves like, and was just going big for the demands of that particular scene. For me, the basic story is unusual enough that we didn't need these jumps into a more heightened style to bring it home. Happy New is at its strongest and most disturbing when calmly looking at this particularly twisted version of a codependent relationship, and the production features some excellent performances, especially from Samuels: Acting a nervous breakdown without the audience getting the giggles is rare enough, let alone when said breakdown involves clucking.

Happy New by Brendan Cowell is booking until the 25th of February at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes including interval.
Appropriately, the production's sponsored by Nando's.


  1. Certainly I'd have liked to have seen this with Alfie in it, but the story sounds as if it could have easily been a bit depressing.

    1. I guess, but no more so than something like Equus. And this has similar consolations in terms of clothes falling off every five minutes. If not to quite the same extent.