Cheer Up, It Might Never Happen presents itself as a comedy about a woman tying up the loose ends of her life before her suicide: presumably this clash of subject and tone — and the show’s tagline, “Dear Melanie, I’m committing suicide this evening” — are intended to surprise, shock and intrigue its potential audience. Yet there is sadly nothing in this production that evokes any of these emotions. It is gently amusing throughout, but with the absence of either uproarious comedy or thought-provoking drama, Sophia Kingshill’s play is stuck in a liminal area of averageness.
The hour-long show follows an evening in the life of Jean Taylor (Maggie Gordon-Walker); in fact, if all goes to plan, it will be her last evening, as Jean has decided to kill herself. Most of the evening is driven by the phone calls which Jean makes or receives, meaning both the script and Gordon-Walker have the tricky task of constructing characters and situations from one-sided conversations. This is, for the most part, done effectively and entertainingly as Jean’s exasperation at her colleagues, clients and neighbours raises some early laughs. An argument about the comparison of a friend’s parenting skills to We Need To Talk About Kevin was a particularly well-crafted piece of dialogue.
The concept of approaching the topic of suicide through aspects of ordinary life — rather than death — is an interesting one, but sadly it is not enough to sustain even an hour-long show. Gordon-Walker gives a valiant attempt and it is down to her that the show holds our attention, but it doesn’t excite us, disturb us, make us think, make us laugh hysterically or weep uncontrollably — all the things that theatre has the potential to do. At times Gordon-Walker seems stilted as she makes her way through the rather repetitive dialogue and the tasks she must complete: there is little variety in tone, giving her limited scope to show her abilities as an actress. Yes, there were successfully comic moments, but these elicit more of a wry smile than a full-on belly laugh.
The main problem is that playwright Sophia Kingshill and director Pradeep Jey seem confused as to where they are pitching the show. There is no exploration at all of the motivations behind Jean’s intended suicide, or even any of the emotions that may be leading her in this direction. Perhaps Kingshill has decided that this is not her main focus — and perhaps this could be refreshing — but there is nothing to replace this lost expectation. In the last moments of the show, it seems as if all the irritating problems and bureaucracy of life is too much to bear for Jean, but this outburst is short-lived and not expanded upon, and is the only flash of powerful emotion we see throughout. Her attempts to explain her intentions to loved ones, through letters, have the potential to be funny, but become a vaguely-amusing theatrical device which doesn’t lead us anywhere.
There is nothing ‘bad’, as such, or offensive about this comedy drama, but neither is there anything that makes it stand out from the crowd. It suffers from a lack of pace needed by a comedy, and a lack of depth required to tackle such a subject matter. Although approaching its themes from an intriguing angle, there is nothing meaty about this piece to get your teeth into: an idea with potential which, unfortunately, misses the mark.
Cheer Up It Might Never Happen is playing at Camden People’s Theatre until 30 June. For more information and tickets, see the Camden People’s Theatre website.