It is difficult to critique a show that is raising awareness and funds for ovarian cancer research, but I will try my best. Happy Never After is not so much an insightful exploration of what it is like to experience ovarian cancer but more a play about everyday relationship issues, with a gradual backdrop of ovarian cancer complications.
Jen and Neil have just moved in together. They fool around on their new lime sofa amidst their moving boxes. However, the cracks soon begin to show, and not in the ceiling of their new flat. There are hints of incompatibility. Jen is louder and more garish than Neil, while Neil is slightly nerdier and more organised. Neil is also more interested in having kids than Jen. Add a potential diagnosis of ovarian cancer into the mix and you have the play’s central premise: Will Neil and Jen have their happy ever after in marital bliss?
The show’s main strength is in its characterisation, as executed by this duo of actors. Jen and Neil were presented with clarity and consistency, and were entirely believable. The dialogue, too, was realistic and emulated the annoying conversations couples really engage in. Jen and Neil pillow talk to vomit-inducing effects, or they argue over anything and everything. Will the house parties be nicknamed ‘Jen and Neil’s’, or ‘Neil and Jen’s’? Why hasn’t Neil made Jen tea in ages? Why isn’t Neil listening to Jen when she speaks? Why is Jen only the most beautiful girl in England and not all over the world? The twain were never short of topics to debate. Although a skilful replication of reality and real couples, it did not make for interesting or entertaining viewing.
The two also appeared to be projecting for a much larger room and audience. This production was loud and noisy and consequently, very annoying. They laughed loudly, they joked loudly and they argued loudly throughout. Every scene was demanding and full of too much trivial conflict. This is once again perhaps true to their characters, yet surely there are more subtle and listenable ways of doing this.
The effects of cancer on an individual and their partner were explored with sensitivity. Jen explains that Neil’s behaviour towards her makes her feel broken. She also says she wants to talk to her mum about it. However, the production does little more than brush the surface of this experience. Ultimately, too loud and without enough to say, this production seems somewhat lacking.