Happy Never After

Rating ****
Reviewed by Ed Theakston

Happy Never After, Pleasance Below

Good new writing is sometimes hard to find, so it is refreshing to see such a polished production at the Edinburgh Fringe in the form of Hannah Rodger’s Happy Never After. Directed by Luke Sheppard, it is an honest and touching look at the emotional scars that cancer leaves behind, even once the disease itself has been cut away.

The piece is a two-hander focusing on Jen and Neil, entirely in love and having just moved into their first flat together. Their humble but blissful life is turned on its head after Jen is told she may have ovarian cancer. The focus is not so much on the disease itself, but more on the way the couple have to deal with the irreparable changes the disease forces on them.

Rodger’s script is a beautiful portrait of a relationship in turmoil. There is the perfect balance of intense, affecting emotion and darkly comic moments. It is a deeply human and compassionate script. Rodger has written a sensitive and involving play while not oversimplifying the issues at hand. This is top-notch new writing.

Alice White and Nick Blakeley’s performances are superb. Alice White as Jen is delightfully childlike and energetic, and her sense of desperation to hold on to what she is forced to give up is beautifully played. Nick Blakeley impeccably captures a sense of powerless dedication in his touching performance as Neil. Their chemistry is utterly convincing and never overplayed.

Director Luke Sheppard has created a considered, beautiful production. The staging is simple but dynamic, making impressive use of limited space. Gabriella Slade’s effective composite set is themed around brown paper and packing crates, and is used to its full potential in Sheppard’s staging. Lydia Samuels’ sound design is haunting and unsettling, and helps to create an intense atmosphere.

Happy Never After is a complex, deep and touching piece of theatre. It doesn’t offer an easy solution to any of the problems touched upon, and ends on an aptly ambiguous note. Hopeful but painfully honest, this is a surprising gem of a show.

Written by Hannah Rodger
Directed by Luke Sheppard

Jen – Alice White
Neil – Nick Blakeley