The Happiest Day Of My Life
Magic, Tenderness and The Adrenalin Thrill of Seeing The Impossible on Stage
REVIEW ... Newcastle Playhouse
by Ismene Brown
The Daily Telegraph | Tuesday Sep 14 1999
I don't believe I have ever seen a more dazzling use of the stage than that of Lloyd Newson's new piece for DV8, The Happiest Day of My Life, given its UK première in Newcastle last week. How is it possible, on one small stage, to dance in a club, get caught in the rain, get married in church, make an ideal home, be on television, walk through a ghost, and swim in the ocean?
Newson asked the question, and designer Bob Bailey and lighting designer Jack Thompson came up with the answer. For their ambitious genius, and the adrenalin thrill of seeing the impossible on stage, you must see this.
The scenario — about how marriage alters the balance of six dopey friends — is less likeable, portraying some fairly wretched urban types without finding them a resolution, more Abigail's Party than Friends. On the other hand, on the night I saw it a key performer had been replaced through injury, which I suspect weakened the drama.
But we begin enchantingly with a Mediterranean lady singing Love is a Many Splendoured Thing to us, an arch and irresistably mumsy Cupid figure, spreading romantic clichés among the inarticulate, sex-obsessed Brits. (She sings beautifully, too.)
How dangerous she is, says Newson. Not just because the groom is tempted by his gay best man — predictably — but because these are people whose life is fixed on the physical: working out, dancing, dressing up, screwing on the sofa. They glue their bodies expertly (and none too choosily) together, but can't talk to each other. Their platitudes and attitudes come pre-packed from television. It's viciously amusing, and the cast, who had a big hand in the devising, play with gusto.
And yet, against his misanthropy, Newson's staging supplies magic and tenderness, his tricks capturing the many-splendoured illusions of love inside these dumb heads. Mirrors, glass, film, the pop music collage, confuse one's view of what is real.
A balloon game at the pre-wedding party, the groom's sex fantasy in the sauna, the troubled best man's wishful fantasy of heterosexual bliss, the wedding itself, are heartstopping sights.
I won't split on the most amazing coup de théâtre of all, late in Act 2, but it isn't a secret to say that after the interval the newly-weds' lounge is now surrounded by deep water. And gradually everything goes in, the cast, the TV, even, majestically, the sofa.
This was all so cathartic to watch that one expected some heroic conversion in the characters — to wild barbarism, perhaps, or sudden virtuousness. The rippling water brings together images of baptism and desert-island seas; the plunging cast are both cleansing themselves and soaking themselves riskily in their fantasies.
But they gave each other a few dirty looks and that was it. The last-minute cast change may have been significant. In any case, I'll have to go back just to please my eyes a second time.