In these increasingly cash-strapped times putting on any musical on the Fringe is worthy of praise, even if — with a cast of six accompanied by electric piano and drums — the depth and quality of sound on show here is necessarily shallower than you might hope for.
Have a Nice Life — book by Matthew Hurt, music and lyrics by Conor Mitchell — shows the consequences of a new arrival, Amy, turning up at a long-running therapy group. It’s their 24th weekly session and therapist Patrick — who clearly has emotional and psychological issues of his own — struggles to integrate the new arrival into a group when her very presence upsets its already strained dynamics.
There’s Chris, the hopeless romantic who still lives with his mum, uncomfortably sat next to Frank, the cocksure postman who later insists he attends the group just to pick up emotionally vulnerable women. There’s Jackie, an incessantly chatty and somewhat absent-minded mother of three who met Amy on the street a few days earlier and declared her a new best friend; she’s sat next to Jean, who sees all other women — and especially Amy — as a threat, given her lack of luck so far in finding men who won’t stray. At the far end of the room, almost permanently wearing sunglasses, is Barbara, a women with anger-management “issues” who is legally obliged to attend the group for reasons initially unknown to the others.
For the most part, the cast ably bring these initial stereotypes to life, giving a more rounded sense of the fragile human beings underneath their self-imposed masks. That said, they often achieve this despite the music and lyrics rather than because of them. Mitchell is clearly a fan of Sondheim, but all-too-clearly lacks the ability to produce a genuine ‘showstopper’ song that can be remembered more than a minute later, and doesn’t actually impede the emotional narrative flow in the process. Nor are the cast particularly helped by this production’s flat, all-too-rigid staging; would any kind of genuine therapy group really place all its chairs in a row, rather than a circle?
Something of a slow-burner, Have a Nice Life is an entertaining enough way to spend 80 minutes, but it’s unfortunately weighed down by a sense of it presenting a lot of potent talent that’s just not quite kicking off.