Got to be Happy
Simon Burt has great talent. At the age of 27, he is the Pearson Writer in Residence at the Bush Theatre and Got to be Happy follows Untouchable as his second play to be staged there.
The Bush has bravely put him together with an equally young director, Owen Lewis, and the pair seem to work pretty well together. They are lucky to have a good cast to support them, in particular, the experienced Paul Copley and Polly Hemingway, who complement the members of an otherwise very young team.
Got to be Happy dissects the lives of four people who work in a pub kitchen, designed by Lisa Lillywhite, in Burt's home town of Wakefield. This is the kind of place where the curly fries go into the frying pan via the none too clean floor.
A young couple, Richard and Caroline, have their lives ahead of them and are ambitious. He dreams of a transfer to a manager's role in a pub in far-away Bradford; while she is studying to become a mature university student. They are juxtaposed with an older pair, the beautifully realised Charley and the posh Connie who show where the young couple's uncommunicative love is likely to lead.
Burt weaves interesting tales of love and lost opportunity around this foursome in a way that is both touching and amusing. His great strength is his characterisation and having taken on two 18 year-old girls in Untouchable, it is pleasing to report that this also extends to characters in late middle-age.
Paul Copley is brilliant as the taciturn chef, Charley, who spends much of his life brooding and seething against a world that has left him bereft of love for either a wife or a daughter. His relationship with Lisa Ellis' Caroline is moving as they protect each other from her boyfriend, the sometimes manic, always insecure Richard (played by Spider from Coronation Street, Martin Hancock) and the world at large.
Charley's life is a mystery to the others until a new summer assistant, the uncertain Connie, is drafted into the kitchen and then gradually, with Caroline's help, the reason for his bitterness is revealed and a chance of redemption offered.
Burt strives very hard (sometimes too much so) to draw parallels between the two couples. Charley and Connie had been married briefly but romantically long before and are now like shy teenagers. Their relationship is almost exactly mirrored by that of Richard and Caroline, with the men unable to show passion or express the love that they feel in a way that will keep their women. This goes a stage further with Charley's love of classical music and, in particular, Dido and Aeneas. That story of the Queen of Carthage and her Prince stands to be repeated by both couples albeit 40 years apart.
Much of the dialogue is funny and the play is sprinkled with moving moments. Burt is by no means a perfect playwright yet but he creates wonderful characters. He does need to find different situations to put them in, as there are clear similarities between his two plays, exemplified by the carbon-copy endings.
Whilst there may be some weaknesses in his work and a few rough edges to be removed, there is enough promise to make a visit to the Bush worthwhile, if nothing else, to meet the wonderful Charley.
There is little doubt that on the showing in his first two plays, we will be hearing a great deal more of Simon Burt and also of director, Owen Lewis in the future.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher