Tackling the topic of alcohol addiction through dark humour and drama, Happy Hour is a play debuting Upstairs at the Gatehouse later this month. It follows the character of Jacqui as she navigates an inner monologue called George, and how she copes with the destruction it tries to cause her as an alcoholic, driving her towards the booze by inciting her with a life that appeals.
Andy Walker is the writer of the show, and tells us a bit more about how it is inspired by his own personal journey.
What made you decide to write a piece about alcohol addiction, and how do you think the normalisation of drinking culture impacts society?
I am an alcoholic, although I haven’t had a drink for over thirty years. So I know the drinker’s world; the difficulty of beating (so far!) the demon; and the damage done - both during my drinking years and as a result of my quitting. I lost some friendships when I quit. Some fellow imbibers cut me off - because I’d “betrayed" them. Several of these have since drunk themselves to oblivion. The normalisation point is interesting. I’ve become aware of the way drinking is a deeply ingrained shorthand for mateship and seen as an acceptable form of behaviour - when in fact it’s hugely damaging. The mention of it seems to have the same effect as showing a membership card to gain admission to a club. Nobody wants to be an outsider - so people drink.
Why have you chosen to explore this through drama and comedy, and how have you got the balance for this?
I’ve always told stories - hence my history as an animator. By taking a humorous approach I hope I’ve avoided preaching. Had anyone told me to stop when I was drinking I would merely have drunk more. Nagging doesn’t make people think - it makes them stop listening.
What is unusual about having a woman being an alcoholic as the lead character?
Originally I wrote the character as male - because it was my story. It’s a good idea to switch a character’s age/sex/ethnicity etc to see where it might take them. I assumed doing this with the Jacqui character would simply be an exercise. However, it opened up up some really interesting themes like vulnerability; accepted behaviour; and societies expectations of what roles females are expected to adopt.
How did you develop the characters using the perspective of internal monologue, and how does this make the show unique?
I had that demon talking to me for decades. He still whispers in my ear occasionally. I hate him. I remember the moment it dawned on me that alcohol wasn’t my friend. It was screwing up my relationships; damaging my work and ruining my health. That’s not what real friends do. I hope it does make for a unique show. Now that the actors and director have got involved it certainly seems to be shaping up into something extraordinary.
What do the pre-recorded jokes add to the performance?
The jokes reflect the point in your open question about normalisation. We tell jokes about being “legless”, “out of our skulls” etc. and people laugh?!?! I’m going to sound very "dad like” when I say that drunkenness is dangerous. Boring, but true.
Having worked with Lesley Manning directing before, what do you think you each bring to make the perfect combination together?
She has a great skill to keep the drama/narrative pulling in a single direction. This allows me to throw ideas at the page and I know we won’t end up with a confused story. It’s a discipline thing. I don’t have to self censor my ideas because I know the play’s in safe hands. We can discuss content without being hampered by egos. We both just want to produce good work that an audience will enjoy.
What overall message would you like audiences to take from the show?
I really hope audiences will have a good night out. I think there is a lot of humour in the show - but also some dark drama. The two faces of theatre. And if a few people come away from the show and stop to think about their drinking habits then that can only be a good thing. Addiction is self-slavery. I was lucky to be born free - but for a while I put myself in chains. How stupid can you get?
Many thanks to Andy for telling us more about Happy Hour, and his experiences with working on the piece- best of luck for the run!
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Additional thanks to Jamie Rycroft for coordinating this interview.