Happy Yet?

If you’re expecting an uncomfortable exploration of mental health issues and the stigmas associated with them, the tone of Happy Yet? might catch you off-guard. Ostensibly a domestic comedy, even a farce at times, Katie Berglöf’s script refuses to wear its dark themes on its sleeve – though sometimes you wish it would.

There is an overwhelming sense of generic confusion

Torsten (William Irven) is an improbably charming layabout, staying rent-free at his brother’s house whilst making slow progress on his play. As the show progresses, Torsten’s puppyish charisma turns out to be a façade to disguise an unstable mental state that is particularly taboo in Sweden.

Berglöf’s script is excellent in portraying Torsten’s unwillingness to talk about his condition – in one scene he flirts outrageously with a psychiatrist in order to avoid talking about his problems. The trouble is that Torsten doesn’t only hide his true feelings from his family, but from the audience as well.

For the vast majority of the play, Torsten simply seems like a loveable rogue with a staggering disregard for other people’s feelings. We are only given fleeting insights into the mental instability Torsten keeps hidden and when they do come it’s too late in the narrative to make the new, darker tone credible.

There is an overwhelming sense of generic confusion. Torsten’s attempt to wriggle out of an accidental meeting between two women he’s simultaneously dating is the stuff of farce and doesn’t sit well with the more serious themes Berglöf wishes to explore. The tragic moments lose some of their power because they are ill-prepared for by predominantly lighthearted earlier scenes.

The execution is also curiously old-fashioned. Ibsen is referenced near the beginning and for a contemporary piece of student writing it’s surprising how much it has in common with the Norwegian playwright, from the faux cosiness of its middle-class domestic setting to a slightly mannered realism in the acting.

All of the cast are enjoyable to watch but Imy Wyatt Corner’s direction falls some way short of contemporary standards of naturalism. Even Irven, who commands the stage as Torsten, feels more like a cleverly constructed character than a real person. A lot of the supporting characters feel underdeveloped, serving primarily as satellites to orbit the protagonist.

Torsten is a memorable character but the tragicomedy Berglöf has built around him is not as powerful as it should be. The play is consistently entertaining but never really does justice to the mental health issues it promises to tackle. 

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The Blurb

Set in Stockholm, this tragic comedy follows the unravelling mind of its charismatic and eccentric lead, Torsten. An uninvited and permanent guest in his brother’s house, Torsten is in constant battle with himself and his sister-in-law. Precocious and perceptive, his niece, Nina, is the only one who sees through her uncle’s unnerving charm. A warm piece of new writing, Happy Yet? offers a fresh and thought-provoking perspective on mental illness and the harmful stigma it carries.

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