The Royal Court Theatre presents IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS by Martin Crimp at the Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Sloane Square, London.
I saw this work in January, 2013.
IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS by Martin Crimp is a one act, three scene play with no interval.
Each scene has a title. The first scene is entitled: DESTRUCTION OF THE FAMILY. It begins at a family Christmas lunch. Three generations: grandparents (Anna Calder-Marshall and Peter Wight), mum and dad (Emma Fielding and Stuart McQuarrie), uncle and aunt (Paul Ready and Michelle Terry), and two nieces (Seline Hizli and Ellie Kendrick).
The first speech of the play:
Debbie: I wasn't trying to upset people, Dad. I love you. And I love mum. Plus I love Granny and Grandad - and of course I love Hazel too. I do, Hazel - whatever you think. But the fact is, I know that I'll love my baby more. And that's how it should be, dad - however much I love you, I know that I'll love my baby more. Which is why I'm afraid. Wouldn't you be afraid? When you look at the world? - when you imagine the future? I'm afraid, Dad for my baby. And I'm really sorry because I know this is Christmas and I shouldn't be talking like this about horrible things but I just can't help it.
Just imagine what the future conversation of this family might be after that speech around the Christmas lunch!
The satiric and cauterising tone of the act has been set. Later, Uncle Bob 'suddenly appears' and he, after explaining that he is catching a plane, has the duty to tell each family member what his wife, Madeline, who is sitting outside in the car, feels about them:
Bob: ... But look: this is not me speaking now, it's Madeline. She hates you. She finds each one of you in your own way abhorrent. But its deeper than that, it's deeper than that, it goes much deeper than that because it affects her physically - affects her skin - so even now - out there in the car - she's actually having to rub in cream. ... And it's you, Peg, it's you and Terry - okay, let's start there - because you're both so old, she hates you. Okay? She hates this this this smell you have - she says you both smell like flood-damaged carpet and wishes you were dead. Horrid. I know. And not just dead but wants to erase you. ...
Upsetting, to say the least !!!!
This culminates with Madeline herself 'appearing', in the flesh sheathed in "a beautiful haute couture dress and radiates charm, charisma, conviction, power" and in a farewell speech/song addresses the family:
... As a family friend its my duty to say
I'm leaving you now - yes - I'm going away -
but if I was tempted to come back some day -
went into the room
where you kids were asleep
and pushed pins in their eyes -
then I wouldn't go deep
(really - trust me - I never go deep) ...
Scene Two has the eight actors adopting different untitled personas, and sitting across the stage as if on a discussion panel or a life-coaching affirmation group, begin a conversation with the audience. It is presented under the banner headline:
THE FIVE ESSENTIAL FREEDOMS OF THE INDIVIDUAL.
1.THE FREEDOM TO WRITE THE SCRIPT OF MY LIFE.e.g. from the First Essential:
2.THE FREEDOM TO SEPARATE MY LEGS (IT'S NOTHING POLITICAL).
3.THE FREEDOM TO EXPERIENCE HORRID TRAUMA.
4.THE FREEDOM TO PUT IT ALL BEHIND ME AND MOVE ON.
5.THE FREEDOM TO LOOK GOOD & LIVE FOR EVER.
... --- I said I am the one writing the script. Nobody looks like me. Nobody speaks the way I do now. Nobody can imitate this way of speaking.
--- No Way
--- No way can anyone speak like I do. I make myself what I am: I'm free - okay? - to invent myself as I go along.
--- Yes I invent myself as I go along. I am the one who makes me what I am - okay? I've got my own voice:I don't repeat what other people say.
--- No way do I repeat what other people say. I am the one who writes the script.
And more. An hilarious conflation of all the banal delusions of our narcissistic selves that allow us "to look good and to live forever".
The third scene begins without a break, a white cube room, an enormous room, empty, except for "what looks like an abandoned desk", with a view through a back window of a Magritte-like landscape of green and blue illusion, rises through the floor from the lower nethers of the theatre, and we find once again, Uncle Bob and Aunty Madeline, in the world they have flown to. Presumably, they are IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS. That it is not so happy, is, I guess, after what has gone on before, a foregone conclusion - but they insist:
"But it's deeper than that, it goes much deeper than that, it goes much deeper than that."
And, so, here is part of the final swipe from Uncle Bob accompanied by strange music - half music, half machine, haltingly spoken into a microphone:
Here's our 100% happy song
it's got a few words
but it doesn't last long
Hum hum hum
hum the happy song.
Pause. The music continues.
We make up the words as we go along
each word is right
nothing we sing is wrong.
Hum hum hum
hum the happy song.
Longer pause. The music continues. ......
Here is contemporary society in the classic family unit in a modern equivalent of perhaps Dante's Inferno. Here, perhaps, is, like the discussion in Plato's The Republic (c.380 B.C.) a modern contemplation on the defining of what is happiness (justice) in a modern world and what is a happy (just) man, and whether this happy man is happier than the next 'happy' man by considering, through the family 'orders', i.e. Grandparent through to grandchild, the values of the different time (rings) 'regimes' of life experience. What and where are we IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS in this materialist/comfortable existence we all breathe in?
Whatever and wherever it is, this play is a profoundly stimulating time in the theatre. Martin Crimp, appreciated in Europe, as one of the most exciting and distinctive contemporary voices, even more than in his home country, writes not a well-made play, but a meditation, a skewering provocation in a smorgasbord of theatre genre styles, pushing envelopes of dramatic form that are as challenging and interesting as some of the modern inventions of the avant garde music and art worlds.
IN THE REPUBLIC OF HAPPINESS is perhaps not the masterpiece that ATTEMPTS ON HER LIFE is, but it is fairly wondrous. It certainly is in a different stratosphere of conception and execution of content and form than anything ANY of our Australian playwrights exist in: DREAMS IN WHITE, RUST AND BONE, HOLLYWOOD ENDINGS, THIS HEAVEN etc. etc.......!!!! for GOD's Sake, if there is one, save us.
The production directed by Dominic Cook is in a straight forward naturalistic style in all three sections, counterpointing the absurdist, surrealist form and content of the writing.The contrast of methods are amusing and exactly apt. The design, by Miriam Buether, although, in the last instance, a statement (!) is not a showy demonstration of understanding the play metaphors, but, rather, a support to the strategy to the writer's affect. The acting is similarly naturalistic, even gauche, especially when they go into the song (and movement) routines when required (Composer, Ronald van Oosten). When one casts one's mind back to Benedict Andrews' direction of THE CITY at the Sydney Theatre Company(STC) in 2009, one begins to grasp why I might have failed to be cognisant of Mr Crimp's genius. I enjoyed DEALING WITH CLAIR at the Griffin a few years ago. And it was Martin Crimp's adaptation of GROSS UND KLEIN at the STC we saw , directed by Benedict Andrews (!).
In this production at The Royal Court, the acting was good but uneven. Anna Calder-Marshall, Peter Wight (especially) and Emma Fielding were terrific. The biggest difficulty was the lackadaisical work of our leading man, Paul Ready (Uncle Bob) - who seemed to be, mostly, elsewhere most of our night. Friends who saw it, on our recommendation, other nights, thought the same. It made the task for Ms Terry as Madeline, doubly difficult to hit the mark and impress. She gave it a good go.
Stimulating and very, very funny in a most necessary, frightening way. Let us hope it gets here without being covered in some auteurs' directorial finger prints.