Cheer Up It May Never Happen
Venue: The Nightingale
A beautifully British one-woman show, in which the audience share the last humorous moments of Jean's life before she tries to commit suicide.
We enter the space to see a more or less normal modern day living room: Laptop, plants, mug, comfy chair, accompanied by The Monkees' Daydream Believer. Then our leading lady Jean (Maggie Gordon-Walker) enters in a more or less normal fashion. With an understated matter of fact entrance Jean sits at the laptop, and starts to tick off a list of people she's to contact throughout the evening. It has very much the air of preparation for a holiday; calling the neighbours, checking the electricity meter, dropping the key off – only of course with the title and description we already know that this is not a normal holiday that she prepares for. Most of the show continues in this vain: an incredibly quotidian look at one woman's battle with life and death. She contacts her family, friends, ex-lovers, colleagues and boss telling each one of them that there really is nothing they could have done. Posing the question throughout then of Why? Why is this woman about to take her life? We never know.
Both the script and Maggie's performance pull this off superbly for much of the action. The script is clever, witty and shows a real detailed observation of language and character. Within the show the audience are the fourth wall, so much of the dialogue is created through phone calls, and reading out last emails and letters that Jean is writing. This is a tricky task: to strike the balance between giving the audience enough information and yet retaining a naturalistic air. Aside from a couple of clumsy lines on the phone this balance is achieved smoothly, and the audience are comfortable with the set up. Occasionally we are a bit too spoon fed, but this is made up for by some great one liners. Maggie's performance is energetic,detailed, engaging and funny. She has a wonderful ability to hold an audience, and she isn't afraid of pause. The start particularly was a little forced but the most successful moments are when she is able to relax into the words and trust that the script will do the work, which it does.
Having established well a time and space and vise for communication and comedy, there is a slight lull halfway through the show as the audience shuffle a bit more, and perhaps are asking – but where is this all going? We loose the direction a bit and get more of the same. There is one poignant moment as Jean finally sits on the comfy chair and debates telling a friend what we assume to be something closer to the truth. This is a great snippet of freshness from the rest of the show that we have been waiting for, but it is soon swept under the carpet too.
As a fourth wall piece of drama Cheer Up It May Never Happen is successful. Tackling suicide onstage is a big task, many have attempted it through the years, from Shakespeare to Donizietti. This version is not going to bring about great changes in your life, but as an entertaining, well crafted piece of theatre it is an evening well spent on the observations of our very Britishness right up to the last hour.Reviewed by Adele Bates 6th May 2012