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Review: Tom Burke in Reasons To Be Happy, Hampstead Theatre

Tom Burke (Greg) in Reasons to be Happy at Hampstead Theatre. Photos by Manuel Harlan.
Tom Burke (Greg) in Reasons to be Happy at Hampstead Theatre. Photo by Manuel Harlan

There is a shipping container centre stage and in front of it a couple are arguing. The man is Tom Burke. I'm thinking: This is all weirdly familiar, have I seen this before? Turns out I have and I haven't.

It's not unusual for me to sit down in a theatre knowing little about what I'm about to see and Reasons To Be Happy was a case in point. It turns out (Poly filled me in at the interval) that Reasons To Be Happy is the sequel to Reasons To Be Pretty which I saw at the Almeida five years ago starring Tom Burke (and a pregnant Billie Piper).

The story of the intertwined love affairs between four friends - Greg (Tom Burke), Kent (Warren Brown), Steph (Lauren O'Neill) and Carly (Robyn Addison) - has moved on three years. Steph and Greg - the couple arguing at the start - are beginning to wonder if they can rekindle their relationship despite the fact that Steph is married and Greg has started a relationship with Carly.  Carly is a single mum having separated from Kent after he had an affair. It is a play about relationships and doing what makes you happy and it makes a love triangle seem simplistic.

Michael Attenborough, directed Reasons To Be Pretty and also directs this bringing with him the shipping container which opens to reveal different sets  - hence why I had a feeling of deja vu.

Where Reasons To be Happy is different is that if feels like it has a little more substance to it. I found several of the characters in Reasons To Be Pretty quite irritating and while they still have those traits that rankle they are three years older and wiser.

Playwright Neil LaBute is a master of naturalistic conversation from Greg's verbal tics (you know) to Steph's incoherent rants when she is angry. It is well-observed as are the complexities of relationships and life choices. Happiness is not an easy state to accomplish and not even an easy state to define.

It takes a little while to get properly into gear but once it does it is warm and funny with some laugh out loud moments. Like with Reasons To Be Pretty my sympathies lie primarily with Greg who is doing his best to escape their dead end home town while doing the right thing by those he loves and cares about. Carly seems more sanguine and rational compared to the fiery Steph although she is learning. Even the meat-head, alpha male Kent seems to have learnt the odd lesson from his previous behaviour although that doesn't stop him lashing out when he feels like his masculinity is threatened.

I gave Reasons To Be Pretty three and a half stars, I'm going to give Reasons To Be Happy four. It's two hours and 10 minutes including an interval and it is on at the Hampstead Theatre until April 23.