We realise from the first sentence of Nell Feeney’s opening monologue that her character Louise’s sexual history is more gung ho than anything described in this year’s blockbuster erotica – and already we’re grateful for that. The forty-something Melbourne mum remains a hornet’s nest of hormones, and she develops an obsession – borne out of boredom – about a young Chinese masseur in a shopping mall.
Melissa Reeves’ comedy is unflinching in its portrayal of ageing and desire, introducing six pairs of characters with different perspectives on life.
Masseur Lu, played by Gareth Yuen, is a tough nut to crack at first. He’s impassive and reticent, at odds to his playfully offensive boss Jie, who does her best to drain Louise’s sexual chi.
Then there’s boorish mining magnate Dave, played brilliantly by Christopher Connelly – even more so when juxtaposed with Connelly’s other character, jeweller Alec, who has a more limpet-like demeanour. And even more so again if you consider Connelly is a latecomer to the role after original actor Jim Russell fell ill.
Dave’s Chinese boyfriend, played by Keith Brockett, has bitchy obsequiousness down to a fine art, and the pair are used to represent the mismatched relationship between Australia and China without the script ever stumbling into cliché.
Similarly, the very real friendship between Louise and the fabulously intellectual Liliana, portrayed with aplomb by Roz Hammond, examines the economical and sociological differences between Chinese and Australian cultures as they dissect Lou’s latest lack of social grace over lattes. (That the latte is never good enough for Liliana is a very Melbourne touch.)
Happy Ending doesn’t flinch at describing bodies gone soft, sex drives gone mad, menial conversations about politics and well-meaning middle-class attitudes. The dinner scene, in which a discussion of Jung Chang's blockbuster novel Wild Swans elicits particularly loud hoots from us in the audience, is a fantastic example. All along, Reeves keeps the tone as light and tight as a teenage masseur, and if we don’t leave feeling relaxed, we certainly leave feeling perky.