Happy Ending
Cast of Happy Ending

First things first, Happy Ending isn’t, strictly speaking, a musical. Yes, the characters express themselves through song, but arguably not consistently enough to warrant that definition. With the first half containing only two numbers, in this case what the term ‘musical’ refers to is the tone – light, funny and easy going.

Carrie Evans, a revered theatre actor has cancer. On her first day of chemotherapy she is introduced to three fellow female patients, each with their own quirky ways of dealing with the unmentionable disease. For all her grace and elegance however, Carrie seems to be the one suffering the most, not willing or able to accept her fate like the others. The fate she denies is not death, but the gradual degradation that years of treatment will undoubtedly bring about.

Clean, white, and impersonal, the set looks excellent in the space, and the supporting cast fizz with all the necessary vigour. The dialogue is clear and fast-paced throughout, skimming merrily across the surface of a rather more complex debate than can be explored in this form, but the show is nevertheless diverting and light-hearted.

The second half gets into the meat of the argument, which is largely defined by a conversation over who should decide whether Carrie sticks with the treatment or not as Carrie appeals to the doctor’s humanity and the doctor refers her to the law and the Hippocratic oath.

Execution and sentimentality take precedence over depth and moral complexity here but Happy Ending succeeds in fulfilling the author’s promises in the programme notes about it being a “musical-comical fantasy about a subject that people don’t talk about”.

Happy Ending is at Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, E8 3DL until 7 March
arcolatheatre.com

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