Monday, 14 October 2013
Theatre review: The World of Extreme Happiness
Of course Sunny's speech is, like so much around her, smoke and mirrors, and the world she's actually found herself in is a fiercely competitive series of dead ends, her rural origins always marking her out as suitable only to work for the city people's benefit.
Chloe Lamford's gaudy set design of piled up toy boxes and flashing coloured lights (epileptics may want to shield their eyes at times) fits into this theme of bright distractions from a grim reality where promotions are hard to come by and suicides are shockingly common. Befriending the tirelessly enthusiastic Ming-Ming (an excellent Vera Chok) Sunny is taken to a motivational speaker full of self-help platitudes about deserving the best and reaching for the top. But Ming-Ming herself is not far from breaking point.
Meanwhile even the bosses aren't safe, as revealed in a subplot where PR guru Artemis Chang (Sarah Lam, unrecognisable as the same actress playing Sunny's elderly Aunt Wang) overreaches herself and catches the attention of the authorities. But for all its troubling concerns Cowhig's play has a real sense of humour that's brought out in Michael Longhurst's production. The relationship between Sunny and her younger brother Pete (Chris Lew Kum Hoi) offers a lot of lighter moments as well as allowing for a devastating conclusion.
A title like The World of Extreme Happiness could only be bitterly ironic but this is actually a very well-balanced piece that entertains even as it disturbs. Longhurst and his creatives have given it an intense and well-paced (often frantically so) production that makes this another hit for The Shed.
The World of Extreme Happiness by Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig is booking until the 26th of October at the National Theatre's Shed.
Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.