Happy Ending – Arcola Theatre

imageTo fight or not to fight, that is the question. Happy Ending is a gritty hospital drama about a group of cancer patients and their choices about how they want to die.

It’s a question most people have probably asked themselves over the years. Is it better to retain the dignity you have by refusing chemotherapy, keeping your hair and potentially dying sooner than necessary? Or should you spend your days being pumped full of drugs, feeling too ill to move, in the hope that it might give you a few extra days of life. If you can even call that having a life.

It’s difficult to stage a play about people with terminal cancer. I mean, who wants to go and watch that? It’s a tough sell and even at tonight’s press night, the Arcola Theatre in Dalston was only half full. Cancer is a subject we stray away from. For some people it is far too difficult a topic because of loved ones we have lost and others simply don’t want to know about it unless it happens to them.

Happy Ending is an English translation of Anat Gov’s last play before she died in 2012, ages 58 after a long battle with Cancer. Originally performed in Tel Aviv, the show is described as a musical comedy fantasy with a subject that people don’t like to talk about. This is the shows UK premiere.

There are some great performances in this show. Gillian Kirkpatrick plays the ageing theatre actress Carrie Evans, who believes as an actor death shall be her greatest role yet. She portrays the stubbornness of a petrified patient and then finally breaks down believably in the shows climax. Jodie Jacobs plays the nurse well, reciting monologues about different types of medication and holds the show together during the songs with her incredible vocals.

The issue with this ‘play’ is its ‘musical’ element. There are a handful of songs thrown in to the story which just don’t fit. These upbeat, poorly choreographed numbers, performed to backing tracks and loud bouts of feedback from microphones, may have been included to add some light relief to the overtly serious subject matter but sadly they are so cheesy and badly put together that they are teetering on insensitive and almost make a mockery of the play itself.

Happy Ending is a thought provoking play, with some talented actors who can handle the serious text. However it is seriously let down by the unnecessary song and dance elements that just can’t be overlooked when judging this piece as a whole. A real shame.

Reviewed by West End Wilma

Happy Ending is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 7 March 2015.