Several 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.