This family drama turned dystopia is a four star performance for Katrina Gaffney.
Arriving at the Burton Taylor for the opening night of the second ever production of ‘In the Republic of Happiness’ I did not quite know what I was getting myself in to. Greeted by the familiar scene of a family settling down for Christmas dinner you would be forgiven for expecting to see a relatively normal family drama; this, however, could not be further from the reality of ‘In the Republic of Happiness’. This is a production that reaches the heights of absurdity and pushes the audience completely out of their comfort zone.
The first act consisted of an increasingly tense family dinner, sprinkled with some great moments of dark humour. Despite an underlying apprehension, a great sense of realism was created by all the cast; Bella Soames and Max Cadman adeptly handled the difficult task of portraying the Grandparents of the family. The conversations concerning pregnancy and pornography were interrupted by the arrival of Uncle Bob, a character to make your skin crawl and stomach churn, excellently portrayed by Hassan Al-Habib. Uncle Bob appears to tell his family that he intends to run away with his wife Madeline and proceeds to describe in brutal detail his wife’s view of the family. The personality ‘assassinations’ that proceeded were quickly followed by the arrival of Madeline, an equally toxic character encased in a sickeningly sweet exterior and acted wonderfully by Lucy Mcllgorm. The arrival of Madeline coincides with heightening tensions on stage. However, just as the audience is getting nervous at the potential explosion of this family dinner, everything changes.
A difficult piece of theatre to perform, all the cast proved to be remarkable in their execution of these scenes.
There is a complete change of scene for act two, the family dining table is swept away and the cast shed their Christmas apparel; this is where things begin to seem unusual. What followed was an extraordinary performance of physical theatre which led the audience to question all aspects of their daily life, including their own autonomy as individuals. A difficult piece of theatre to perform, all the cast proved to be remarkable in their execution of these scenes. This sequence was complimented by some great songs – which had been composed just for this production – and when combined with the exciting lighting design, I found myself unable to look away from this enchanting piece of theatre.
At times the script is frustrating to watch, because the repetition of lines sometimes seem to make little sense. Still, the second act of this play is interesting because of the great variety of meanings that can be taken from it. I’m sure every individual audience member would have a different interpretation. Personally, I was left questioning the pressures placed on individuals in modern society, particularly the pressure to conform to societal standards concerning perfection. There was also a sense that captured the hypocrisy of modern life, where individuals are often determined to assert their individuality whilst simultaneously wanting to participate in systems and culture which homogenize.
‘In the Republic of Happiness’ is an ambitious production which attempts to challenge its audience and this was certainly achieved. This well-executed show with its strong cast was like nothing I had ever seen and left me scratching my head for a while.