Review: In the Republic of Happiness, by Martin Crimp, at the Royal Court Theatre

republicofhappinessSeveral unexpected questions occurred to me during the performance of In The Republic of Happiness: At what level of collective boredom am I allowed to get my phone out and start surfing? How close to the edge of a row do you have to be to leave in the middle of a performance? Do the actors feel as trapped as I do?

Martin Crimp’s In The Republic of Happiness is an unusual play. Ian used the word “daring”. Is that enough? A rant of low level misanthropy and verbal violence, some of it set to songs, it could have been interesting if it wasn’t so stubbornly unprocessed – and ultimately unprocessable. Individual sentences possess elegance and beauty. Collectively, they make less sense – and have less poise – than a man ranting on a street corner.

The play starts conventionally enough: a family squabbling on Christmas day. The uncle appears. Discussions escalate to uninhibited rants of hate. Secret guilty thoughts are expressed out loud. Suddenly, there is a change to an unidentifiable setting. Actors (characters?) rant and sing directly to the audience. In the final act, a couple we met early in the play engage in a bizarre game of words.

The actors, a cast of impressive talent, remain commendably committed throughout. Half way through, Paul Ready has a moment of heart stopping intensity totally wasted on this play. Michelle Terry has a nice line in casual cruelty and Ellie Kendrick is a bright watchable presence transcending the boring context.

Someone told me the key to enjoying this play is not to look for any meaning. I was bored before I looked for meaning. Maybe some people made it to the other side.

And before I forget, credit where credit is due, the scene changes were spectacular.

P.S. Revstan recounts her own audience experience.

3 responses to “Review: In the Republic of Happiness, by Martin Crimp, at the Royal Court Theatre

  1. Daring is an interesting word to use with this production. I used it myself, but more in the ‘how dare this put on this crap’ fashion of meaning. The (few) people who have seemed to find some sort of meaning or interest in this play are all condemning the naysayers for being offended by it, or not embracing the revolutionary spirit of a non-linear, non-narrative jumble of… whatever. To say that one is not offended, but merely bored out of my brain seems to be the greatest insult one can level against it.

    For the first time in my life, I seriously debated leaving mid-performance (interval or no-interval). The thought of having to get through all five of those ‘episodes’ made my brain want to melt and seep out of my ears. I’m glad I didn’t though. It least I can now hold my head up and say ‘I Survived!’

    • I wasn’t offended. There is a streak of nastiness, but it’s minor stuff and so unfocused that it’s hard to take seriously or assess in any way. As for the revolutionary non-linear argument, when you have plays like Constellations that develops like a branch tree, repeats itself a couple of dozen times, and it’s still gripping and heartbreaking, everyone else has to up their game.

    • Constellations is a very good example of how it is done well. It’s also hard to believe that the theatre that brought us Love and Information could bring us this lifeless drivel.

      I have to say I am offended. But by the Royal Court fobbing us off with this production, that by the production itself.

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