Audiences, who are familiar with Neil LaBute’s other works, will presume that his comedy is going to be nasty.
He first came to notice with the film, In the Company of Men, which was very nasty indeed.
His plays are normally cruel, violent, cynical and misanthropic; but ReasonsTo Be Happy is a sequel to Reasons To Be Pretty(which was staged at the Almeida by Michael Attenborough in 2011) and is in the same gentler key.
The dialogue, though, is sharp and witty. Attenborough once again directs.
The same four characters re-appear but the play can stand freely on its own. You do not need to have seen the earlier play to enjoy Reasons To Be Happy.
The setting is a small Midwestern town. Greg and Steph, who were once lovers, meet. The invective immediately flows.
Steph wants them both to get back together. But Greg is now with Steph’s best friend, Carly.
The new relationship is not made any the easier when it turns out that Greg’s best friend, Kent, is Carly’s ex-husband.
Greg loves Steph and Carly equally. He wants to do the right thing by both women. He’s a nice guy, a decent bloke, but flawed and indecisive. The comedy comes from his torturous vacillation.
Tom Burke also played Greg in Attenborough’s production of Reason To Be Pretty and once again he makes the role his very own. He’s perfect casting.
Burke’s very watchable and funny performance is a very good reason for seeing the play.
Volatile, ignorant Seph (Lauren O’Neil), realistic Carly (Robyn Addison) and boorish Kent (Warren Brown) are intellectually inferior to Greg, who is college educated and a teacher and has the social mobility they, white-collar workers, lack.
So, how will it all end? LaBute says a third play is on its way and it’s called Reasons To Be Pretty Happy.
Featured image Lauren O’Neil (Steph) and Tom Burke (Greg) in Reasons to be Happy at Hampstead Theatre. Photos by Manuel Harlan.