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A knockout evening provides great laughter therapy

Review by Paul Nelson

ONE of the most exciting shows to have come my way in years is an explosion of not only happy exuberance, but youth.

Have a Nice Life is a musical that actually breaks new ground, whilst at the same time doffing its cap respectfully to the older establishment.

It is a great comfort to know there actually is a great wealth of as yet unsung talent around, a talent so brash, hot and peppy, that it treads where angels and even slightly older and experienced exponents of the art of musical theatre fear so to do.

Written, composed and directed by Conor Mitchell, who is still only 25 (that in itself is worth repeating), the show features seven young actors who collectively take the roof off the theatre, established ideas about musicals, and the myth that 'if you've seen one you've seen them all'.

Told with irrepressible energy, the show is about a small group of people seeking group therapy. They have their problems and needs, but eventually it is clear therapy isn't one of them, however, before the day is out, the group leader proves that he is in dire need.

The show is very funny and clever and gives meaty parts to all members of the cast, each of whom, it is good to be able to say, rises to the occasion.

There are only seven of them and each one is given a number in which to shine. They do.

Back in the 1970s, there emerged in America a movement called est, which had its followers and its detractors. Erhard Seminar Training was a human potential movement often abusive, demeaning and authoritarian.

To those in favour of the method it was salvation; to its detractors it was destructive of personality. It still defines the good and the bad of group sessions and therapy and whilst the group in question in this delightful musical is not in any way involved, nevertheless as with all group therapy, the presence of est is felt.

In the case of Have a Nice Life, the result is hilarious.

With a weak leader, various members of the group take the helm, singly or collectively and the result is not to be missed.

The impact of the show doesn't so much hang on which personality among the group you identify with, but on the brashness with which the show has been conceived and the cleverness of its execution.

To begin with, it creates difficulties for the audience to applaud each number. The show has been staged as an entity in itself.

In many cases musical numbers roll over to make way for dialogue before the song clearly closes depriving the naturally noisy from whistling and whooping (they get their chance eventually), which I found a great innovative relief for a new musical.

Many of the numbers are reminiscent of the great showstoppers of Broadway, the standards that we love to hum.

These are not parodies, but the nod to the great is noticeable and appreciated. You have to wait for the second act for the number that deliberately aims for a big finish and it is at that point that the audience lets loose the dogs.

Among the excellent performers everyone will have their favourite, but, as an authoritative standout, is the extraordinary performance of Mary Mould.

Bouncing her lines off the walls of the theatre whilst we amazedly watch them ricochet, this actress, whose gestures appear to be based on the erotic friezes of Indian temples, is something else.

I am not in a position to state whether she is good or bad, that you cannot take your eyes off her is a fact, and if that detracts or enhances the whole, so be it. I certainly wouldn't have missed her.

Neither would I have missed the performances of Emma Little, whose chosen diminutive of her name (Sheila), sparks lots of jokes, and Karen Rush, whose name nobody can get right - it's only Jean after all.

Then there is the shy, self-effacing Chris, who electrifyingly takes over the stage, and, to my mind, sparks the whole proceedings with the show-stopper, Old Fashioned Romance, but being Chris, it isn't allowed to stop the show. I could go on.

The jokes come thick and fast and the setting is so simple you wonder why other companies bother to spend thousands on sets and effects when the entertainment value is after all always in the piece and the performers. This one cannot be faulted.

Go to see this knockout evening and prepare to be, it follows naturally, knocked out.

Have a Nice Life by Conor Mitchell, Music and Lyrics by Conor Mitchell, Directed by Conor Mitchell, Musical Director Tom Deering, Costume Design Heather Long, Lighting Adrian Sweeney. WITH: Chris Robinson (Neville), Joe Rea (Chris), Mary Moulds (Barbara), Karen Rush (Jean), Emma Little (Sheila), Rachel Murray (Amy), Richard Clements (Frank). Produced by Mary Moulds and presented by Plug Productions at The Pleasance, Carpenters Mews, North Toad, London N7. Tickets 020 7609 1800

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