Laughter the best medicine

THEATRE

Jack Rooke - wit, verbal dexterity and a fierce political intelligence. Picture: The Other Richard
Jack Rooke - wit, verbal dexterity and a fierce political intelligence. Picture: The Other Richard

Jack Rooke: Happy Hour

Underbelly Cowgate (Venue 61)

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It starts off threatening to be a myopic sketch about ­student life, reinforced by an ­audience who, seemingly newly released from the ­junior common room, ­guffaw at every slacker ­anecdote and chummy in-joke with a gusto that seems to surprise even Jack Rooke himself.

But although he rides the laughter with the authority of a seasoned stand-up, he is far, far ­better than that. With sharp wit, verbal ­dexterity and a fierce political intelligence, he takes us from freshers’ week ­insecurity to a devastating analysis of men, mental health and suicide. ­Happy Hour is funny, angry, political and desperately sad.

Where 2015’s Good Grief responded to the death of his father, this show is ­similarly haunted by the passing of loved ones. If we are to take him at his word – and the ­story is too raw to ­disbelieve him – Rooke has been uncommonly stricken by loss.

But unlike the many shows that treat death as a personal affront, Happy Hour accepts it as an inevitability. Rooke is not maudlin or sentimental. He’s quick to see the ­funny side of things and revels in the blokish, no-nonsense relationships that many men share. He won’t romanticise his friends just because they are dead. Shit happens.

What does concern him, though, is the inadequate way that we as individuals and society as a whole deal with mental illness. Death may be inevitable, but suicide isn’t – and statistics point to a postcode lottery for those who get help in time and those who don’t. It’s this perspective that drives the rage underscoring Happy Hour. It is a sweet and touching celebration of male camaraderie and an ­impassioned plea for ­better medical provision when men’s ­emotional inarticulacy hits crisis point. It’s a show that floors and fortifies you.

Mark Fisher

Until 27 August. Today 5:20pm..