Fiona Nash is a young woman, with a career in London, but as the play begins, she is at Beachy Head, when the phone rings. It is her sister, with some very sad news. Beachy Head is her childhood home, she has not gone there to escape a life, more to look at her own life, and to find the ideas and themes that will enable her to write a fitting eulogy for her Mother. The wind is blowing, there is a storm brewing, and Fiona is wearing a yellow mac, and wellies, and as the weather improves, she is able to catch her breath, and see the world in a differing manner.
In Happiness is a Cup of Tea, the writer and actress Annie McKenzie summons up the parts of Fiona’s life in a way that is full of pathos, anger, resentment, but also of acceptance. She is no stranger to death, having lost her Father, and as a result of that, the mother she knew before at Six. A six year old cannot make sense of death, of the repercusions of it, how it changes things, and Fiona knows that if she could speak to her six year old self, there is nothing she could say to make things better. As well as Fiona’s own life story, we are told the story of a fisherman, who one day finds a skeleton in his nets but this is no ordinary skeleton, and as he cares for the skeleton, it begins to come to life, gathering flesh and life from the fishermen’s tears. The use of two puppets for each of the main characters brings a certain level of humour to the play. Although the stories are unrelated there is some sense of unity in them, as the shock of death, or the discovery of a death lessens, and acceptance comes into the picture.
This is a one woman show, a soliloquy on loss, but there is also more there, as Fiona contemplates her much older sister, giving the eulogy at her Father’s funeral when she was sixteen, and Fiona realising that it is now her turn. She talks about how she will now have to learn to Iron, to step out of the shadows of her own life, because the people who used to look out for her, have left her on her own.
Fiona also feels bruised, because she had no idea that her mother was even ill, so was unable to say goodbye to her properly. The play ends as Fiona remembers how her Mum saved numerous lives, just by talking to potential suicides at Beachy Head, and maybe in its own way, this short play, which tackles big subjects, and deserves a larger audience is doing the same, in reaching out to the bereaved and saying its, OK, we all feel like this, but it will get better.