Happy Birthday Dear Alice – The Review

A review of Happy Birthday Dear Alice as performed at Kapiti Playhouse on 2nd April 2014. Reviewed by Andrew London.

An enthusiastic cast reveled in their roles on the opening night of this delightful comedy by Irish playwright Bernard Farrell. The diminutive Rachel Neilson plays aging widow Alice with obvious relish, fending off her hideous family’s increasingly desperate attempts to shunt her off to a nursing home.

Teresa Sullivan is superb as the greedy domineering daughter, feigning filial affection for her dear old Mum while putting other family members firmly in their place with a tongue that could trim a hedge. Her henpecked and hyperactive American husband Cormac, ably portrayed by Renwick Wright, comes in for plenty of scolding, as does her desperate loser brother Barry (Mark Harris). Only Barry’s younger-than-everyone-obviously-deems-appropriate love interest Sandy (Geena Collins) comes out of the fray with any credit at all, and thus any audience sympathy.

Farrell’s two act play, with each set a year apart on successive birthdays of Alice’s, convincingly highlights the obsessions and insecurities that beset many a family reunion. Things come to a head late in the first, with a delightfully hysterical scene where Alice’s old friend and confidant, Jimmy, is discovered hiding in the closet like the proverbial skeleton he is. Jimmy’s role is sensitively played by stalwart Tony Tait, whose delivery of old-bloke deaf jokes deserves special mention. He could give lessons in comic timing.

Jimmy spends most of the play erecting and removing security bars on Alice’s kitchen window, which seem to reflect the encroaching threat of her family-initiated institutionalisation. The family’s increasing frustration with Alice’s resistance to the idea brings out the worst in all of them, which is the source of much humour. An intelligent witty show, presented by a uniformly excellent cast who were obviously having an absolute riot.

Mention must be made of evocative 1940s music (‘Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall’ was poignant!), a great set and particularly expert lighting.