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Happy Now?

Published April 17, 2008

Kitty is a working mother juggling a hectic job with being a mum to two young kids, trying to sustain a healthy relationship with her husband and avoiding the temptations of adultery, all the while asking herself, is she really happy with her lot? Caroline Bishop went to see Lucinda Coxon’s new play at the National Cottesloe.

It is no revelation to say that the lot of the working mother is a stressful one. But the scenario does provide playwright Lucinda Coxon with the opportunity to create a play stuffed full of sharply observed characters, witty dialogue, 21st century cynicisms and relationships that are familiar to us all.

Olivia Williams’s Kitty is a professional woman who finds her workload suddenly increased at the same time as her father lies ill in hospital, causing the fragile structure of her domestic life to be challenged even more than it already was. Her husband Johnny’s (Jonathan Cullen) job swap from lawyer to teacher has created more issues than it intended to solve, her father’s illness has stirred up old family wounds and brought new health worries, and Kitty’s increased workload means she just about has time to feed the kids M&S sandwiches for dinner and collapse on the sofa in front of Will & Grace on a Friday night.

Which is why, when she meets a philandering middle-aged married man at a conference who makes no bones about wanting to sleep with her, Kitty, despite herself, can’t help thinking about it. Stanley Townsend’s Michael is a podgy, unashamed charmer who cracks bad jokes and arrogantly assumes that every woman will want to sleep with him eventually. Though the character itself is not unfamiliar, his direct honesty and depressingly prophetic analysis of Kitty’s thought process make him seem unreal, like a figment of Kitty’s imagination, the embodiment of her own symptoms of unhappiness.

In contrast, the characters of Kitty, Johnny, and their friends Miles (Dominic Rowan) and Bea (Emily Joyce) are all too realistic. Miles is a repellent, drink-fuelled character whose obvious unhappiness in his marriage to a woman he doesn’t respect manifests itself in nastiness towards those around him, particularly Bea and Kitty’s gay friend Carl (Stuart McQuarrie), who seems to have a happier life than any of them.

Perhaps the most seat-squirmingly recognisable character of all is Kitty’s mother June, in a cameo by Anne Reid. Divorced for 20 years yet still dwelling in a pit of bitterness and obsession with her ex-husband, June is a sympathy-grabbing martyr who feels the world is out to get her. Her constant digs at both ex-husband and daughter, exasperating telephone habits and woe-is-me attitude are extremely funny and excruciatingly painful, emotions felt as much by the audience as by Kitty.

The answer to the question in the title is that no one, really, is very happy in this play. Coxon doesn’t tell us how we should go about making ourselves happy, rather she leads the characters to a semi-contented conclusion which seems to suggest that, in this hectic modern life of ours, all we can hope for is to muddle along as best we can.

CB

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