Since I started writing for North West End UK, I’ve spent longer than the average person sitting in small theatres above pubs watching plays about mental health. This suits me down to the ground – I like theatre, I like pubs, and I’m really delighted that we live in a society where mental health is being explored through the arts. To my mind, this can only lead to better understanding, greater empathy, higher quality conversations, and ultimately more support. I have the utmost respect for people who are brave enough to write about or portray their own lived experience onstage, and I will keep supporting this movement to create safer spaces and common points of reference for those conversations.
All that aside, Happenings didn’t have the profound effect on me that the synopsis suggested it might, and I left feeling a bit flat, and a bit, well, nothing.
We open with couple Jane and Joe (portrayed by Grace Collett and Tom Hobart). Jane is experiencing some kind of existential crisis – nothing is happening, and isn’t life supposed to be made up of “things” happening to you? And if nothing ever happens to you, what’s the point? It’s an interesting if not unique question, but it plays out quite laboriously in the dialogue between the two without ever getting to the nub of the issue. We later meet Jane’s friend Fran (Zo Biba-Leonard), wide-eyed with frenetic energy after a brush with death that may or may not have been a cry for help. Of the three, Fran feels like the most three-dimensional character, and Biba-Leonard’s gentle portrayal of her builds the right amount of audience empathy and interest. I didn’t warm to the other two in quite the same way but feel that that was more down to the characters themselves than the portrayal. The play is largely dialogue – there’s very little movement and indeed probably 70% of it takes place on a sofa in either Joe and Jane’s or Fran’s flat. When a piece is that dialogue-driven, you want the dialogue to be exceptional – witty, pacey conversation, deep observations, rich soul searching – and I didn’t feel that that’s what Happenings delivered. The ingredients were there but not explored fully enough to give me what I was hoping for from the play.
Neil Russell does an enjoyable turn as Jim, and later as a security watchman turned guardian angel, and the direction makes the best of the space, with the cast providing smooth scene changes and deploying some interesting props. But overall, I’m sorry to say that this wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, and although the run at the Hope Theatre is over now, I wouldn’t recommend it as a must see if it pops up at a different venue in the future.
Reviewer: Zoё Meeres
Reviewed: 23rd May 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★