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In the Republic of Happiness, Royal Court

Martin Crimp
Directed by Dominic Cooke

Pros: This is a brilliantly acted, humorous, confrontational, thought-provoking play which continues to mature long after you leave the theatre. Playwright Martin Crimp is the real star of the show.

Cons: The extremes of human behaviour are all laid bare and delivered with base language. This show is not for a sensitive audience.

Our Verdict: This is a fantastic play for an audience who enjoys challenging, provocative theatre. Audiences who are easily offended, or like a storyline which is easy to follow, should probably avoid this one. 

Courtesy of The Royal Court

I have a dilemma. One one hand, I absolutely loved this production but at the same time I can clearly see how it would not appeal to everyone. It is brutally confrontational in so many respects, the language is blunt and consistently base and the dialogue touches on subjects normally reserved for the most private thoughts and conversations. This means that the easily offended, more prudish audience members may struggle to enjoy it.

The format is far from conventional, which may also serve to further alienate some audience members. In the first act we are lulled into the relative security of an uncomfortable Christmas dinner scene. Uncle Bob arrives in the middle of the meal, disturbed, crazed even, and launches into a vitriolic revelation about how his wife, Madeline, really feels about the family. Madeline and Uncle Bob are leaving and this is their parting shot. This scene generates laughter in abundance both with humour and awkward embarrassment. The confrontation we experience here is familiar and digestible – so far so good.

Then, in act two, we are jolted into a TV show style symposium where the characters are released from their identities to discuss ‘The Five Essential Freedoms of the Individual’. This is where it gets really clever. There are no set lines or characters in this act, no male or female, young or old – any of the actors can speak any of the lines at any time. This is simultaneously disturbing and mesmerising.

Members of the cast often start the same lines together and one will trail off and leave the other to finish. We had a quick chat with Anna Calder-Marshall (Granny) in the bar after the show (another wonderful aspect of the inclusive Royal Court vibe). She told us that the cast are not allowed to say the same lines in the matinee and at the evening performance and you cannot hold out for the lines you want, as you often don’t get to deliver them and then you lose the thread! Knowing that the cast can deliver every line emphasises their enormous talent – each line is credibly presented even if it does not sit well with the age and sex of the actor delivering it. The third act then returns to a more conventional dramatic setting with Madeline and Uncle Bob in a white room. Have they arrived at their destination?

Martin Crimp’s script is genius and slowly matures in your mind long after the play is over. Dominic Cooke’s direction is extraordinary as it hints at a reality TV show panel making it both familiar and unnerving. The actors are almost in a state of one-upmanship as they career into the depths of human frailty in order to be released from it. There are allusions to ‘previous times’ in this scene, giving the audience a sense that we are somewhere in the future.

It is then in the third act where we have perhaps arrived in The Republic of Happiness, and all the aspects of modern life that cause anxiety have been stripped away to leave only nirvana. But at what cost? It appears everything that makes us balanced, thinking, feeling, caring human beings has been stripped away too and what’s left is insecurity and emptiness. Well, that is my take on it – yours may be completely different, and that is why I think this is a great play. It is confrontational and challenges contemporary concepts of happiness. If you like thought provoking, discommodious drama then this show is highly recommended but not so if you are looking for a comfortable entertaining night at the theatre.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

In the Republic of Happiness runs at Royal Court until 19th January 2013
Box Office: 020 7565 5000 or book online at

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