Happy Never After[author-post-rating] (3/5 Stars)

Moving in with your boyfriend for the first time is scary enough, but any concerns Jen might have are pretty much dwarfed by the health scare she has just weeks after moving in with Neil. She has growths on her ovaries; they might be cancer or they might not.

For Neil, desperate to have kids, already ostracised by his Catholic family for co-habiting before marriage, the looming possibility of Jen’s infertility is less upsetting than that she might be unwell, but still pretty disastrous. He loves her and is as supportive as he can be, but struggles more and steadily more to cope with the concept that a life with Jen means a life without parenthood.

The cast of two, Alice White and Nick Blakely, are natural and sympathetic as the young couple, but Hannah Rodger’s script strains for realism to the point where many of the early scenes are just a little… dull. Jen and Neil are a normal couple, and that works when we see them confront the possibility of Jen’s illness, but less well when they’re just going about their ordinary lives. That they find each other funny because they are in love is credible – but many of the jokes fall flat in terms of audience reaction. It feels like eavesdropping on a boring couple you’ve never met before on a train: it’s romantic that they find each other hilarious, but inevitable that you don’t.

The issue is a hugely important one and deserves to be discussed, but there is not quite enough ingenuity or originality in the text to justify this production’s existence. Still, it’s entertaining enough and hugely tense at times, especially in the sequences where Jen waits for her results. There is also some innovative set design from Gabriella Slade, with boxes that unfurl, close, stack up, utilising their minimal amount of space perfectly and easily conveying different locations – the living room of their house, the inside of a train or the ward of a hospital. The quirk of labelling everything, though – so that a sofa is conveyed not by a sofa, but by boxes with ‘sofa’ stamped across them – feels oddly stylised for an otherwise highly naturalistic piece of theatre.

The ending is extremely well built up to but falls a little flat, as Rodger raises more points than she addresses and poses more questions than she answers. There’s potential here, but Happy Never After needs a slightly stronger script in order to fulfil it.

Happy Never After can be seen at 12.40 at Pleasance Courtyard, every day until 26th August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.