Neil LaBute’s Reasons to Be Happy (sequel to Reasons to Be Pretty) follows a group of friends in an awkwardly complex love square. Since separating from Steph, protagonist Greg is now tentatively venturing into an auspicious relationship with Carly. Carly has recently split up with adulterous Kent, with whom she has a daughter. Steph and Carly were best friends. Greg and Kent were also best friends. Rifts within the group are growing by the day, and are destined to get even worse, as each of them struggle to realise what it is they truly want in life.
The set design constructed for the Hampstead main stage production is impressively effective. Essentially a ship container, both sides lower down to reveal either a staff kitchen or Greg’s school. Occasionally the outside of the container is dressed up to look like the back of a shop or the outside of a restaurant. The whole structure is maneuvered gracefully by the technical crew who are dressed as employees of the factory where Carly and Kent work for an added touch of authenticity.
Tom Burke as Greg gives a generously warm performance, offering a likeable quality to the indecisive and fundamentally selfish character. The other characters are not so likeable. Kent, played by Warren Brown, is a homophobic misogynist, determined to never reveal a single sign of vulnerability whilst frantically trying to re-piece his life back together. Brown has moments of sincerity scattered amongst a juddering and stiff performance. Both female characters, Steph played by Lauren O’Neil and Carly played by Robyn Addison, are painfully two dimensional, lacking any genuine substance. This is most definitely a result of the writing. Their dialogue is nothing but a barrage of grating clichéd language and muddied purpose, that is led further astray by some character choices that felt out of sync with the rest of the performance.
The storyline has a lot to offer that the script just can’t deliver. Odd scenes show promise and for a short moment draw you in, only to meander out of sight and leave you uninterested. Some generic, comic, moments designed to evoke empathy come across as cheap and ill placed. All the elements of this play seem terribly uncoordinated and ultimately make for a disappointing watch.
Reviewed by Bob Galereux
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Reasons to Be Happy is playing at the Hampstead Theatre until 23rd of April