Thursday, 24 March 2016

# Reasons To Be Happy! Part 1 Seeing Tom Burke on Stage

Well what an amazing week this has been! I have been far too giddy to write anything, but it is now time to pull myself together and share my experiences of another fabulous weekend in London courtesy of the Burketeers!

Friday 18th March, everyone is tweeting and messaging about being at the Hampstead Theatre having lunch and getting all excited for the evening's performance of Neil LaBute's play, Reasons To Be Happy. I am still mopping the kitchen floor and in the North of Wales! Still I was on the "fast train" to London town; thankfully it lived up to it's name and at 4:30 I was sitting in the kitchen of a flat five minutes away from the theatre having a cup of tea! (How I wish I'd stuck to tea for the remainder of the night!) Upon arrival at the theatre a group of Burketeers got together for hugs, chat, and Prosecco. We then took our seats to watch the play.

The play evolves around the lives of four characters whose lives are invariably intertwined. This is the second of a three play series by Neil LaBute. It is helpful to understand the past lives of the characters, but not completely necessary for you to enjoy this second piece. Carly and Kent were married and now they are divorced with a young daughter. Steph and Greg were partners, but Steph left Greg and we find she is now married. The play starts in a grocery store carpark and Steph and Greg are arguing, a delightful mirroring of how the first play started! Greg and Carly have secretly started a relationship, the news has got out and Steph is not happy!

Reasons to be Pretty, the first play showed that couples do break up. Things are said in the heat of the moment that might not ever be resolved, and friendships can end in frustration. But whilst some relationships burn out, others are always there. Whether the opportunity ever comes around for us to reforge those relationships, the past and people are never completely forgotten. You might find yourself wondering what people are up to now, and what you would say to them if you entered their circle again.

The play arcs around these themes, it gives the characters the opportunities to finalise business so to speak, to move on, to put the past behind them. But can they? Whilst Greg is trying to forge a relationship with Carly, we can see that the meeting in the carpark has awoken desires in Greg and Steph's relationship. Should he stay with Carly, or should he go back to Steph?

How do I find happiness?

Greg (Tom Burke) is a likeable character. He doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but this dilemma he finds himself in is further complicated in that Steph and Carly are best friends and tell each other everything...until now. Greg was best friends with Kent, but that relationship fell apart in Reasons to be Pretty. Out of the three characters, Greg is the one who has tried to better himself. He does not want to be tied down to a dead end job. He has studied hard to gain qualifications to become a teacher, something his friends find hard to understand, but even with all of his intelligence he can't answer the eternal question. What is happiness? He just can't make his mind up, even in a few sentences he can argue his way out of his initial thought process. As Steph said, his clarity is "pretty much like the consistency of mud".

Kent (Warren Brown) has elicited some sympathy from me. I didn't like the character in the book, but watching Warren's performance on stage opened up Kent's character. It was interesting to hear the differences in the dialogue between him and Greg. I felt sorry for him, he often didn't understand what Greg was saying to him. He wasn't educated, he would spend his life packing boxes, but he had a light about him. In one dramatic scene with Greg, he makes the most sense of all of the characters. He might not be articulate, but he showed that there was more to life than reading a book and dreaming about a better life. He is practical, he helps the kids play sport, he encourages them to be better people, he does, whilst others think. It was a poignant moment and rather thought provoking.

The characters are multi-faceted, and they all have qualities that attract and repel. The two female characters are remarkably similar on stage, something I didn't notice when I read the play. In some respects you want them to be totally different, but if there weren't similarities, it would make Greg's decisions easier. Both ladies are tough, both speak their minds, neither will be pushed around. The moment Steph (Lauren O'Neil) suddenly realises that she shouldn't have left Greg all those years ago, that all she has done is to move her problems from Greg to her new husband, is a revelation.

If you want to be happy,be. (Leo Tolstoy)

Life is full of the sublime and the ridiculous. This play has both. It has moments where you laugh at how absurd these four people's lives have panned out, that their answer to everything seems to be to stand and scream and swear at each other. But you realise that just because they are unable to articulate their feelings, that they do have hidden depths and qualities. These four characters are normal people, they make mistakes and they try to rectify them, but whether they will ever find the answers they are looking for is anyone's guess. I think that, coupled by commanding performances by all of the actors, makes this a play that the audience can relate to...even if sometimes the american dialogue might not be everyone's cup of tea!

If you are a Tom Burke fan, you will love watching the play, he is on stage practically the whole time, and if you are in row A your knees will be brushing the stage! I am thrilled to see an extra week has already been added to the run, so there is still the opportunity to get tickets to see it (or see it again!) It is a warm hearted romantic comedy. I don't think anyone can ever really say what happiness is. The thing that made you happy one day can make you sad the next. Happiness is an eternal shapeshifter, and as the play shows, all we can do is take one day at a time, and do the best that we can. I'm looking forward to the third play. I doubt Greg will have figured things out, but I do hope he finds happiness...whatever that is!

I just think we're eccentric

Once the play had finished, a large group of us found a table near the door and away from the bar area for a chat and a gossip. This figure suddenly appeared, said "hello" and was sorry that he couldn't stop for long as Vaughan Sivell (writer Third Star) was taking him for dinner. Errrrrr "Hi Tom!"

Once the shock had elapsed we all had a good natter about various things, one of which was about a tree made of sweets we had sent as a first night treat. Apparently it ended up in the Green Room and was a great topic of conversation. Everybody shared it, and it was decimated within one day! One of the group asked Tom if he minded having the gifts and the mad fans, he looked a little quizzical and so I shouted across to him, "I don't think we're mad, maybe eccentric?" He pulled a wry smile and said "eccentric, yes. But then I'm eccentric too."

Once Tom had left the building and I'd waved goodbye at Vaughan, I made my way over to where the author Neil LaBute was. He seemed genuinely surprised that a couple of us were waiting for him to finish speaking so we could have his autograph. He asked who we were, I said collectively we're Burketeers. He said "oh the famous Burketeers!" He then introduced Josh Hamilton to us, who played Greg in the US stage version of the play. He said that he was directing Tom's mum in a play. What a small world the theatre is!

It's a dirty job but someone has to do it!

In my drunken merriness I then headed over to Warren Brown and got his autograph and then I asked Robyn and Lauren for their autographs. They were all so lovely and charming, and I only regret having quoffed so much Prosecco. I can talk for Britain without it, with it, I spout even more nonsense than normal. In my defence, they did asked me to explain about Burketeers, a subject I can talk about for hours! Robyn and Lauren said it was a tough job having to kiss Tom every night *wink wink* I laughed with them and said, "well it's a dirty job but someone has to do it!"

It wouldn't be a Burketeer event if we didn't get kicked out...

Yes I couldn't believe it. A man took our glasses away, and I ended up running around the bar of the Hampstead theatre telling him I needed plastic cups as there was still Prosecco in the bottles on the table! I then noticed the time, and that the only people left were staff, actors and Burketeers!  There was a sense of deja vu, We were kicked out of church hours after an Operation Smile event had finished at Christmas! Is this going to be a new Burketeer tradition, maybe we're going to need a special badge!



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