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by Giles Cooper
Directed by Vivian Munn
Designed by Alex Marker
Lighting by Alex Watson
Presented by Odd Sok Productions in association with Concordance
Deborah Solstice - Caroline Taylor
Mark, her brother - Scott Brooksbank
Susan, her sister - Camilla Corbett
Gregory Butler - Will Godfrey
5 - 23 October 2004
The first London production for more than twenty years of the black comedy
Dramatist Giles Cooper (1918-1966) was “the most original and brilliant dramatist to have written for and been created by radio”. Happy Family was the last play he wrote before his death "and probably his best". He died mysteriously falling from a train in December 1966. First presented at the Hampstead Theatre in 1966 with Wendy Craig as Deborah, it transferred to the West End with Michael Denison, Dulcie Gray and Robert Flemyng. It was last seen in the UK in the West End in 1983 with Stephanie Beacham, Ian Ogilvy, Angela Thorne and James Laurenson in a production directed by Maria Aitken.
Director Vivian Munn is best known as an actor with credits including the Young Vic under David Thacker (including playing Osvald in Ghosts in the West End), world tours for Michael Bogdanov and Michael Pennington’s English Shakespeare Company and roles for David Thacker, Max Stafford-Clark, Steven Pimlott and Bill Bryden for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The Press on the West End Productions
"The best thing the late Giles Cooper wrote for the theatre" Irving Wardle, The Times
"It makes me regret keenly that we shall not savour any more of the razor-edged laugh lines with which he slashes the healthy cheeks of the traditional English middle-class." Daily Mail
"Mr Cooper's script which is exciting and witty, constantly springs surprises and expertly coincides these surprises with psychological revelations.....The play is intelligent, satisfying and holds its high quality to the end." Jeremy Kingston, Punch
"Giles Cooper had so subtle and permeating a sense of the disturbing, the uneasy, and the possibly obscene that he takes possession of our judgment, and invalidates it as an instrument of rationality. He projects impulses we would all deny, conceal, or ignore, and makes of them a universe that something deeper than reason accepts as real." W.A.Darlington, The Sunday Times
"Giles Cooper's Happy Family is one of those "lost" comedies of the English theatre” Sheridan Morley, Punch
“Shrewd, strange, funny, compelling, and ultimately horrifying play.” The Daily Mail
“Weirdly amusing story, theatrically effective… compellingly told” The Daily Telegraph
“So refreshingly humorous… so decidedly chilling…it remains a riveting entertainment.” Sunday Express
The Press on Happy Family
"Sharp revival of a snappy little sixties number. . . Vivian Munn’s direction for Odd Sok Productions plays at a high temperature with a fast pulse . . . it needs the pace and edge of unreality of sheer knowing mockery the production provides. Yet Cooper has a tougher line and manner than, say, David Turner in his initially successful 1962 satire on the suburbs Semi Detached. And if the periods remote, its attitudes and manners history, no longer needing sustained attack, Cooper delves beneath the surface to point up truths about such families. . . Each performer has their clear territory: Caroline Taylor’s younger sister is evidently chained by family ways from her first outsize grin when her brother arrives. Scott Brooksbank makes him believably the financier whose colleagues might never know (unless they share) his mindset. Camilla Corbett’s outstanding as the elder sister desperate to get to a life that’s (a key word in the play) normal."
Timothy Ramsden, Reviewsgate.com
"The Finborough’s reputation for digging up hidden treasures is demonstrated again with a fine revival of Giles Cooper’s 1966 comedy, Happy Family, not seen in London for over 20 years . . .
The willful absurdism of the play’s opening scene is inspired . . .but like the best absurdist comedy, the play only works because the characters, though distorted, are all-too-familiar. Occasionally, when the second half finds itself veering dangerously towards realism, it invariably snaps back with a cutting throwaway line or a moment of sharp physical comedy. The drawing out of the play’s comic excesses whilst never losing its dramatic impact is testament to director Vivian Munn. It is in the most ridiculous sequences, though, that the vibrant cast excel. . ."
**** Four Stars Matt Connell, What’s On in London
"Some big performances in an extraordinary play. . . Scott Brooksbank’s performance is quite exceptional, but laurels all round."
Borkowski.co.uk Liquid Soap
"It’s hard to fault this superb revival of Cooper’s 60’s black comedy in which Alex Marker’s traditional drawing room set hosts some wonderful comic timing from the cast and director. Munn squeezes every last ounce of humour from a sparkling script. . .
Presumably influenced by the psychiatrist RD Laing whose theories were gaining ground when the play was written, the script satirises the darker aspects of family life. The characters’ ludicrous fear of anything new or unknown (strangers, black people) also acts as a comic metaphor for the way holding on to the past eventually becomes totally ridiculous.
The original production was clearly a call to arms at a time when 60’s liberalism was first questioning all sorts of out dated values but Cooper’s arguments still resonate today.
His satire extends beyond subverting the traditional comedy of manners to theatrical in jokes and the creaky mechanisms of second rate stage craft. Wanting to get Gregory out of the way for a few minutes, for instance, he simply sends him: for no apparent reason in the middle of dinner:- out to the car to get his hat."
Colin Shearman, The Stage
"With a title like Happy Family one might expect, in the 21st century, to be confronted with a set of conventionally drug addled and abusive whackos going through the motions of disaster. But the playwright is Giles Cooper, prolific in the 50’s and 60’s until his strange and untimely death, and so we are hurled into a spooky world with whackos, yes, but a different kind of weirdo: stuck in a time warp and horribly believable. Previous West End productions have featured such luminaries as Wendy Craig, Ian Ogilvy and Stephanie Beacham. This is a fine cast also who constantly surprise us with the depths of each tiny but cruel emotional ratchet coaxed out by Cooper's extraordinary script. It’s a comedy too and with each cruelty there comes a shocking laugh. . . . This is a netherworld of unspoken punishments, childhood grudges and a complete lack of adult relationships. Sex of course has never risen its head until now. The characters are completely bonkers, the play is disturbing, and also disturbingly funny"
Julia Hickman, Theatreworld Internet Magazine
"Hurrah for the Finborough Theatre for staging the fourth professional production of Happy Family in the UK. Penned some four decades ago by cult dramatist Giles Cooper, this dark play is the first London production for over 20 years and is attracting hardcore Cooper fans as well as those who are unfamiliar with his work. Set in the Sixties, the play centres on the three members of the Solstice family who are still as emotionally vulnerable and innocent as they were as children. Their lives are changed by the arrival of Gregory Butler (Will Godfrey), Susans (Camilla Corbett) fiance. . .In Happy Family, Cooper has taken a torch and shone it on the imperfections and trappings of family life. The play is a stroke of genius that shows the devastation that family life brings to its clan and how, despite ones desires to leave the group, one is never really free from its claws. Through rich and amusing dialogue and the interaction of everyday life, Cooper astutely portrays the push and pull factors of belonging to a family. . . Alex Marker’s set portrays the old fashioned cosiness of a living room prevalent in the Sixties. . . Full credit must be given to Vivian Munn’s sharp direction of this play, which is not only superbly cast but gives fine attention to detail in this psychologically rich tale. Scott Brooksbank stands out as the fast-talking, objectionable middle brother. The star is Caroline Taylor who hauntingly takes on the damaged role of Deborah and makes it her own. Happy Family is compelling on many levels and this production won’t disappoint. One only hopes that another theatre will deem it timely to stage more of Cooper’s works before long." Sharon Garfinkel, Rogues and Vagabonds