Theatre: Mr Happiness and The Water Engine

Monday night, Johnnyfox and I found ourselves in the dark, cold underworld where dreams are destroyed by faceless businessmen. We also found ourselves at the Old Vic Tunnels, a fabulous collection of spaces under the railway arches near Waterloo station (that are also a little bit dark and dank) watching Mr Happiness and the Water Engine, two short plays written by David Mamet originally for radio.



The first piece is about a radio announcer (Mr Happiness) and his sometimes unusual advice to his listeners. Played by David Burt, his velvety tones and the space of the theatre make you feel like you could be in a radio audience from the period.

Things switch a tone for the second piece, The Water Engine, is about a young inventor Charles Lang (played by Jamie Treacher) who invents an engine that runs on water. But he soon finds that he is up against lawyer-hoodlum types and things

This is a stylish great looking production with a great looking bunch of actors. The performances are impressive too but you do feel for the actors and hope that they have dressed warmly in this cold space. As homage to the original radio origins of the pieces actors speak into microphones and create sound effects of doors opening, factories whirring and machines starting up. The atmosphere of the tunnels with the trains from Waterloo rumbling overhead adds to a sense of creepiness. It would have been possible to close your eyes and follow the play, but you would miss out on seeing the fantastic costumes and set designs then too.

It is also not everyday you get the chance to go to the theatre via a rather anonymous entrance that has security guards outside, but the location is also an opportunity to sample the treasures from the Lower Marsh area. The tunnels were recently the site of Banksy's documentary premiere, Exit Through the Gift Shop but given they are vast cavernous spaces, the possibilities are endless... Although hopefully its use won't include the site being yet another club.  Maybe it is not suited to every production (and a musical might be tough going there), but with the Old Vic Tunnels, Waterloo East Theatre, Union Theatre along with the long-established major venues, an interesting cluster of theatres catering for a variety of tastes has firmly taken hold in SE1.

Produced by Theatre6 and MokitaGrit Productions, it runs through to July and is a great night out. Dress warmly however, and be prepared for smells that you might not be familiar with (unless your home has rising damp or is poorly insulated)...

The views from the boo'd are below...
Musings at Mr Happiness and the Water Engine (mp3)

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