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A CurtainUp London London Review
Happy Now?

Men and women taking pleasure in each other . . . . men and women in peace and harmony in mid-price hotel chains across the globe.— Michael
Happy Now?
Olivia Williams as Kitty
(Photo: Stephen Cummiskey)
Lucinda Coxon's new play at the National in the small Cottesloe studio space is about the stresses on a modern, professional woman as she strives for perfection. It features Olivia Williams in the leading role as Kitty, mother of two and woman executive for a large charity, who juggles running her family, home and paying the mortgage. Other pressures she has on her are managing her warring and divorced parents, her impossible mother and her hospitalised father, her boss who has cancer and as friend to a disintegrating couple, Bea (Emily Joyce) and Miles (Dominic Rowan). Kitty's husband Johnny (Jonathan Cullen) has given up a more competitive job to become a teacher but the idea that he would be more available to help with their children seems unrealised. The only figure in this who Kitty can confide in, is her gay male friend, Carl (Stuart McQuarrie) who, compared to everyone else seems to have a loving and nurturing relationship with another gay man.

The play opens at a conference for people who administer charities. Michael (Stanley Townsend), a charming but sleazy Irishman with a way with words and a deep sexy voice, tries to persuade Kitty to go to bed with him. Our Kitty refuses, telling him she is happily married. Kitty is a bright girl who sees through the seductive charm and tells us that he is the kind of man who tells clever girls they are beautiful and beautiful girls that they are clever. The following scenes show us that this happiness is far from idyllic, despite Kitty's protests to Michael. Kitty's coming home is not a rest from work but non-stop catering for the children to the sounddrop of the afternoon's television programmes. Dinner is with Bea and Miles, where Miles' sardonic wit batters away at his wife's lack of occupation. More scenes delineating Kitty's responsibilities are sandwiched into the play's filling which is rounded off by another meeting with Michael, when Kitty gets very drunk and Michael refuses to take advantage of her in that state.

Lucinda Coxon has closely observed the middle classes at play and the scene where Miles and Bea are taken to task by Johnny for taking their (questionably gifted) daughter out of the local primary school into a church funded and less diverse one is beautifully observed and very funny. Their reasoning is that their daughter needs to be stretched. This is exactly the kind of quarrel that families fall out about and never speak to each other again.

The first act sees Kitty under pressure. The second has her asking questions about how awful her life is, "Is this it?" she asks. The epiphanic moment comes with Michael when Kitty, having reached rock bottom, learns to see what is of value in her life.

Olivia Williams is a wonderfully natural yet expressive actor with all kinds of nuance and insights into Kitty's character which are seemingly effortless. Anne Reid is the infuriating, self pitying mother, ghastly! I liked too Dominic Rowan's caustic Miles who having uttered one sarcastic remark too many, is kicked out by his wife and comes to lodge with Kitty and Johnny. Stanley Townsend has great presence and in one scene he splendidly walks past Kitty to a tune from Evita, pretending not to recognise her after she knocked him back. Jonathan Fensom's set uses wooden fronted cupboards as fitted kitchens and hotel bedrooms. The play is nicely directed by Thea Sharrock, ideas like both parents describing their day, simultaneously but in isolation underline their differences. The children played in voice only. The brilliant scene when Kitty gets drunk in the hotel and play fights with Michael made me want to join in. Happy Now! augurs well for Lucinda Coxon's new play Nostalgia which premieres next month at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth.
Written by Lucinda Coxon
Directed by Thea Sharrock

Starring: Olivia Williams, Dominic Rowan, Stanley Townsend
With: Jonathan Cullen, Emily Joyce, Anne Reid, Stuart McQuarrie
Children's voices: Gabriel Astle, Bretia Coxon-Owens
Design: Jonathan Fensom
Lighting: Oliver Fenwick
Sound: Paul Arditti
Running time: Two hours 10 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 020 8420 3000
Booking to 10th May 2008
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 1st February 2008 performance at the Cottesloe, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 (Rail/Tube: Waterloo)

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