EFR - Reviews of Happiness is a Cup of Tea

Happiness is a Cup of Tea

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2016

reviews

Julia O'Driscoll

at 09:21 on 7th Aug 2016

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Annie McKenzie, London-based writer and performer of the one woman play ‘Happiness is a Cup of Tea’, shares with us some of the anger, confusion, bewilderment and sorrow of grief. Fiona Nash struggles determinedly through a thunder storm in a bright yellow raincoat until the skies clear just enough that she can stop, breathe, and have a cup of tea. Her mother has just died, and Fiona must now try and make some sense of her thoughts and emotions so that she can compose a fitting eulogy. We meet her in her home of Beachy Head, reflecting and remembering how her life had been before the ground fell from beneath her feet.

The writing is beautifully honest and painfully true, and McKenzie’s performance is outstanding. The crescendos of furious rage are balanced by quiet moments of simple yet poignant realisations, as simple as “I miss my Mum”. Fiona’s words resonate in these moments of emotional clarity and continued to echo as we all returned to our days, leaving Fiona to salvage some sense of home and understanding. She is a wonderfully warm character, who paints the characters of her life so vividly with humorous anecdotes and fragments of information that I almost felt I had met them too. There are only one or two moments where it feels as though the pace unnecessarily quickens, or a physical movement does not quite fit, but otherwise McKenzie’s performance is absolutely faultless.

And yet, there is not only her grief. With the help of some puppets, Fiona is there to tell the story of the Skeleton girl and the Fisherman. A dutiful storyteller, she will not be interrupted by the nearby payphone's intermittent intrusions, a reminder of the reality she is unable to escape. The subtlety of the many layers of this show is intrinsic to its beauty. Each component has been carefully considered and is thoughtfully appropriate, but does not require lengthy analysis or interpretation. Perhaps it is the fact that ‘Happiness is a Cup of Tea’ is accessible in so many ways that means it is a show that very much stays with you.

I choked back tears during and after the performance, and although Fiona contemplates how as humans we are all “transient, transient, transient”, the essence of this show is anything but. Thank you to Fiona Nash for letting us trespass into your thoughts and your world. Congratulations to Annie McKenzie; this is a triumph of writing. A story and a show that deserves attention.

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Toby Clyde

at 15:03 on 7th Aug 2016

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This one-woman play is a work of great strength and breadth. There can be few things harder in theatre than to write and perform a one-hour soliloquy on grief, loss and growing up; let alone to do so with such sustained sensitivity and variety. Yet this is what Annie McKenzie achieves, in a deeply personal mix of story telling, puppetry and song.

Set on the top of a stormy cliff, Fiona Nash has just been told of her mother’s death. With no idea that she was even ill and with the impossible task of writing a eulogy for the next day she sits down for a cup of tea to talk it all through. It is a strange space that somehow manages to have both the drama of a stormy coastline and the intimacy of a hot tea.

Indeed this strangeness is vital in keeping the piece varied and moving. The play actually originated from a dramatically shorter piece performed at the Camden Fringe last year and so there was a real danger it would simply become a baggier version of its predecessor. However with the help of puppetry, sound and the simplest of sets (just a bench and a phone booth) McKenzie shows us both the rage and sadness of the same grief. We see her struggling against the wind to throw herself off a cliff only to move into a story about a fisherman’s isolation. The result is a play that feels brilliantly alive as it battles with the dead that loom just off stage.

Ultimately though it is McKenzie’s performance that gives this play its intensity and breadth. She is in complete control of her material, pacing the slow reveal of this young woman so we can feel Fiona desperately trying to find the words as she confronts what has happened. It is not easy to watch; the humour is brief and fleeting but the room was tragically bare of audience when we came. It certainly deserves special mention that Mackenzie was able to face down two reviewers in bright red jumpers for the entire hour with no sign of fatigue.

So for everything that this show accomplishes, its breath of talent, strength and unflinching understanding of grief, go and see it this Fringe.

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