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Happiness is a Cup of Tea at VAULT Festival – Review

Annie McKenzie
Annie McKenzie

What do we do when we’re faced with our own mortality? Have a cup of tea and a sit down for a minute, Fiona will tell you all about it.

On entering we are greeted with a rather intimate venue. The set is a raised stage with a bench and a telephone box and nothing else. The space is used well throughout.

Fiona (Annie McKenzie) is scared of death. She is scared of not knowing what comes next but thinks about death far too much for a “normal” person. She recently received a voicemail from her sister – Fiona has a tendency to run away and not answer her phone – informing her their mother had died. Fiona takes us on a journey through her confused mind. Are her memories actually memories or dreams, possibly even wishes at times?

If we find out or not is likely open to interpretation (I would think we don’t) but McKenzie delivers the monologue with passion, comedy in a couple of places and a natural ease that leaves you feeling like it was a chat with a friend. Albeit a rather one-sided chat. This can also be attributed to the writing, also McKenzie, not just the acting. Which is the same when it comes to the grief shown by Fiona losing her mother.

The turmoil Fiona experiences from the memory loss and the fact her mum is gone is felt from the audience. For me the most memorable part was the story from where the title comes from. Happiness is a Cup of Tea was embroidered and hung over the fireplace because the man who Fiona’s mum stopped from committing suicide had written it in a card as a thank you. Pride for her mum’s actions yet sadness because she is now gone was so clear, beautifully done.

For me there are a couple of areas that could do with clarification. The start of the play has a cliff top with the wind blowing – the sound effect had me feeling chilly  – and the telephone rings which Fiona ponders answering. Eventually doing so with no apparent outcome. This is shortly followed with a dialogue-less couple of minutes where items are laid out and a cup of tea is made. I couldn’t work out why either of these sections were in the play, although the spitting the mouthful back into the cup got a giggle from the audience. The lighting also felt a bit haphazard and I think there were times they were trying to create an atmosphere but it just didn’t seem to work properly. It is short at under 50 minutes in length and could benefit from being part of a double bill. This might be possible at The Vaults depending on the timings of other shows.

Happiness is a Cup of Tea – I don’t like tea, thankfully I did like this. If the couple of unclear moments and the lighting got sorted it would be 4 stars as McKenzie does do a great job but as it stands;

3 stars

Review by Lee Cogger

Happiness is a Cup of Tea is a one-woman play, part-autobiography part-character piece: an exploration of grief and bereavement which tells the story of Fiona Nash on the eve of her mother’s death. Her estranged sister Leslie has demanded that Fiona write her mother’s eulogy, but to do that she must remember. Trouble is, Fiona has a lot of memories she’s not sure are memories anymore and actually might just be dreams. Still, she’s trying. What do we do when we’re faced with our own mortality? Have a cup of tea and a sit down for a minute, Fiona will tell you all about it.

Cast & Crew
Annie McKenzie – Actor/Writer
Michael Tonkin-Jones – Director
Melanie Smith – Photographer

Happiness Is a Cup of Tea 
by Annie McKenzie
Vault Festival
Pit | 6.15pm | 24th to 28th February 2016

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