Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview

Guy Retallack: Happy Ending

By | Published on Wednesday 4 February 2015

It doesn’t perhaps sound like the best subject matter for a funny musical – the story, set in an oncology clinic, of a woman with cancer – but ‘Happy Ending’ met with great success in Israel, the home country of late writer Anat Gov.

This month an English translation of the musical premieres at Arcola Theatre. To find out more about the play, and the playwright, I sent some questions over to director Guy Retallack.

CM: Can you tell us a little about the plot of the show?
GR: ‘Happy Ending’ is about Carrie Evans, a theatre star in her late 40s who has just been diagnosed with cancer. It is set in an oncology clinic on her first day of chemotherapy. Despite what it seems,
‘Happy Ending’ is actually an incredibly witty and clever comedy that explores what it means to live
and to die well. Carrie meets three very diverse and humorous women at the clinic who each have
very different approaches to coping with their illness that gives Carrie a startling insight of what is
to come. After realising she has a choice of how to live, and how to die, she makes decisions that
will rock the system.

CM: The play addresses the choices that cancer patients can make. Does it have an agenda, political or otherwise? Is it pro euthanasia, for example?
GR: ‘Happy Ending’ isn’t really about a specific agenda, I suppose it’s an exploration and discussion of choices in general. It neither encourages nor criticises the way people choose to handle something like cancer, or death in general, but in the end just suggests that despite bad news, or a diagnosis, there is always a choice you can make – and that choice might be to do nothing or it might be to have faith or fight with everything you have got to stay alive at any cost.

CM: It wouldn’t be the first musical with a sombre or challenging theme, but is it in any way difficult, do you think, to have a musical element in a show about dying..?
GR: I think Anat (the writer) approached it in a very clever and witty way. Since the play is about a
musical theatre star all the musical numbers are dream sequences she devises in order to process
what she is going through – and within the context of the character it makes perfect sense to
imagine things in this way.

CM: Can you tell us something about the playwright?
GR: Anat Gov is well respected in Israel. She wrote for many popular television shows and her plays had critical acclaim. When Anat wrote this piece she had been diagnosed with cancer herself and this was her expression of those experiences – which I think is really captured in the writing. Anat chose the same path as the protagonist Carrie and sadly passed in 2012 but ‘Happy Ending’
continues to be successful in Tel Aviv.

CM: What made you want to direct it? How did you get involved with this production?
GR: Daniel Krupnik (the producer) and I have a short but creative history of working together. He sent me this script after reading about it in a Jewish newspaper and I read it on his recommendation without knowing anything about it. Something that is very interesting to me when you receive a script is how much and how quickly it engages you, to determine how much you want to pursue it. ‘Happy Ending’ instantly grabbed my attention, and when I discovered what it was about and its content matter, I was even more drawn in by its fearless and witty approach to the themes.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast?
GR: Casting was an interesting process because of the diverse characters we needed – having (nearly) an all female cast from various ages and backgrounds. Gillian Kirkpatrick (Carrie) and Thea Beyleveld (Sarah) I have worked with before on ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘Macbeth’ respectively and it’s great to be able to work with them again. The rest of the cast bring a wealth of experience with them from various backgrounds from West End, television and theatre.

CM: This is the British premiere, isn’t it? Are there plans to tour it here, or take it beyond the UK?
GR: Well I wouldn’t want to let on too much. We will just have to wait and see how opening night goes.

CM: What’s next for you? Do you have any new projects coming up?
GR: ‘Thrill me’ – a production I have directed since it opened in 2011 at the Tristan Bates Theatre,
starts a UK tour in April at the Greenwich Theatre. To find out more about this show you can visit We are also touring “Macbeth” later this year which is another Daniel Krupnik production.

‘Happy Ending’ is on at Arcola Theatre until 7 Mar. See this page here for info and tickets