Happiness is a Cup of Tea – The Vaults until Sunday 28th February

Happiness is a Cup of Tea 

★★★★

Review by Francesca Mepham

Happiness is a Cup Of Tea was a definite highlight of the Camden Fringe last year. As a drastically shorter piece of work, the one woman play performed and written by Annie Mckenzie left a lasting impression, after it’s performance at Canal Café Theatre as part of a night of short works called Indelible Images. Now a much extended piece at just under an hour at Vault Festival the high standard of writing and delivery is every inch identical, with every aspect of grief covered.

Vault Festival’s Pit is a perfect space for Happiness is a Cup of Tea, and on entering the audience is struck by a feeling of coastline, with sounds of waves crashing against rocks and a warmth generated like the mild temperatures connected with the coast. A small bench and crooked old-fashioned telephone box give the set a quirky charm. This is integral to the plot the audience discover later in the work and was very skilfully not to mention authentically constructed by director Michael Tonkin-Jones, perhaps even the sound of seagulls interjected would have been an interesting touch.

Mckenzie’s Fiona is introduced to the audience as a quirky eccentric unknown to them arriving home in the aftermath of her mother‘s death, who by the use of physical gestures such as making a cup of tea on the cliff face, endears her self greatly to the audience almost instantly. She describes her obsession with death as a child, up until the worse case scenarios both happened in the death of both her parents, at different intervals in her life. A most poignant moment, is a description of her mother in an alternate universe, had overcome her grief of losing her husband so well, to which Fiona informs us this was not the case, which as a young child has stayed with her until the present.

A sense of mythical folklore is apparent in Mckenzie’s inspired text when describing her recently deceased mother as joining the sea or as her mum had described ’the sea was calling her back’. This was mixed with a sense of anger and pain at her Mum not telling the truth of the extent of her illness and her older sister being the one with her at the end. A voicemail message left by Fiona’s older sister Leslie, is cold and detached and a sense of bewilderment is felt by a young woman obviously lost in every sense of the word. A phone box ringing intermittently perhaps represents Fiona’s subconscious, with the voicemail left from her sister which is extremely intelligent writing from Mckenzie.

As in the previous production of Happiness is a Cup of Tea, Fiona describes her mum’s heroics at saving a man at the brink of suicide who wanted to jump off the Beachy Head Cliff, all by the power of sitting him down with a cup of tea. This was expertly delivered so tenderly by Mckenzie that it strikes a chord, the power of human emotion and kindness shown to those more fragile in their times of need, can be the difference between life and death. The re-telling of this story was a pivotal moment and signalled a climax in the piece, that leaves the audience wondering just what happens next for this character that has such depth.

Anyone who has experienced loss and those who have not ,can unite in a tale of also finding yourself and in this case remembering when someone you love has helped another lost soul, to which you can take comfort. Annie Mckenzie’s Happiness is a Cup of Tea is a beautiful exploration of the fragility and hope that arises in the aftermath of grief. This is a writer and performer who bares her whole soul and mind, to which is a very rare gift.

Happiness is a Cup of Tea

★★★★

Review by Francesca Mepham

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