“I could be the model Australian”
The Old Red Lion Theatre in Angel seems to have struck up quite the symbiotic relationship with the Trafalgar Studios 2 as a number of its productions have transferred there and the latest to make the leap to the Whitehall venue is Brendan Cowell’s Happy New. I decided to see it purely on the strength of the casting of Lisa Dillon and avoided reading anything about it in advance as it is a rare pleasure indeed that I see a play with no knowledge of what it is about. And it really paid off as the unexpected direction of the show and the way in which it progressed came as a genuine surprise and one which I’d recommend, going in blind if possible.
It’s a story alternately about the cruelty that humans can inflict on each other and the way in which the media are often guilty of exploiting human crises for their own gain and then dropping the subjects like hot potatoes when the next big story breaks. Traumatised by events from their past, Danny and Lyle are two brothers now living an almost hermetic existence in a tiny flat, with just the vibrant Pru as a conduit to the outside world though it becomes increasingly clear that her intentions are far from honourable.
Cowell’s use of a mostly expressive style of language swoops and entwines itself around the intriguing concept, suggesting both the lasting impact that torture has on impressionable minds and also the way in which language can wield immense power. Lisa Dillon is powerfully persuasive as the manipulative Pru, exercising control where she can over the suggestible brothers and unafraid of using her sexuality to get exactly what she wants.
William Troughton as the older Danny fulfils the big brother role movingly with a barely-there degree of control which is entirely necessary as it is Joel Samuels’ Lyle who is most on the edge, delicately fragile, birdlike even, as his fragmented psyche struggles to deal with the damage and figure out a way to live life in the present. Samuels delivers this mixture of fear and danger with an extraordinary performance and in the intimacy of the studio, it is mesmerising work.
There are moments when Robert Shaw’s production flags a little, the pace suffering from the extravagance of the linguistic curlicues which are a touch over-extended in the final analysis, but this exceptionally well-acted play is never less than intriguing, occasionally enthralling and sometimes appalling in what it reveals. And on a lighter note, it’s nice to see some natural body hair on a pair of good-looking actors and though it has become something of an earworm, isn’t John Farnham’s ‘You’re The Voice’ a cracking tune.