Jack Rooke: Happy Hour

Jack Rooke: Happy Hour
The Underbelly Edinburgh Fringe Festival August 3-27, 2017

It is heart rending to watch a show riddled with loss, especially when it is a teen-ager who has suffered. Jack Rooke has had an inordinate amount of people he love die, some from suicide and some from unexpected natural causes. In his show, Happy Hour he explores how someone with so little life experience to give him perspective can come to terms with his father dying when he was only fifteen years old, his best friend committing suicide and so many others he loved now gone to eternity. He is now 23 years old and still grieving.

The central plot in his show is his bond with his friend Oliver Douglas. The story line traces Douglas’s mental conflicts and his decline as he slowly loses the will to live. Although this is a solo show and is told from Rooke’s point of view, the very able Ben Welch, although he never says a word, is the foil for Rooke’s comments. His presence gives the production a beautiful dimension.

The show opens by giving us a picture of the world Rooke and Douglas live in. “When I was at University, I had three jobs: Handing out condoms for the NIH, a spoken word artist and a primary school teaching assistant.”

And then we get a bit of background. Right after Rooke’s father died, his dog and cat left the world. In 2014, his Uncle Skip died, and in 2015 he lost his grandmother. We see pictures of each of the deceased as Rooke speaks. When he was 18, still reeling from so much loss, he went to the University of Westminster and began networking to lay the foundation for what he wanted to do with his life. At university, he and his friend Jordan move in together and it is Jordan who gives him the emotional support for the challenges he will have to face. But then, his close friend Oliver asks him, “Have you ever thought about suicide?” and he explains “I don’t want to lose you; I want to leave me.”

This show has a serious and heartbreaking undercurrent, but the tone is actually very upbeat and just a bit manic. There are jokes of course about university life and about Rooke’s curls. He says, “A girl called Clara comes up to me and asks ‘Are you a girl or a boy?’ Rooke recounts his desperate attempts to keep his life on an even keel, punctuated with periodic calls to Oliver who is falling slowly apart.   “I push you (Oliver) to the back of my mind,” he says knowing that his friend’s survival time is running out. Indeed, when he is 30 years old, Oliver Douglas commits suicide.

Rooke says “Since that day in 2015, all my dreams came true” and we know he is wondering what kind of justice is in this uncaring world he lives in. What cruel turn of fate kept Oliver from realizing even one of his dreams when Jack Rooke realized all of his? ”I stood at your grave when you would have been thirty,” says Rooke. “When the crescendo of life, Ollie, got so loud you had to turn it down.”

The show concludes with Rooke’s observations on what suicide does to us all. “Suicide means failure,” he says. “And we are creating more and more failures. I don’t want failure to win.”

This is a show that illustrates all too clearly what we have allowed society to do to our young people. We are slowly crushing their hopes and erasing their futures. We saddle them with debt and do not give them opportunities to build the lives they want or give them the security they need to even want to live in this tumultuous world of ours. We smother them with rules and build walls of protocol they cannot climb. Is it any wonder so many of them cannot endure life? “You sit waiting for the fire inside you to stop….and you wait for weeks and weeks……” and it only gets worse.

The pace in this production is excellent and the alternation between videos, speaking and music keeps our attention Much of the text is predictably maudlin, playing on our sympathies rather than giving us substantive text to illustrate the disturbing concepts Rooke wants to get across. However, sometimes we need to exaggerate a point and pound it in just to get it noticed. Exposing the prevalence of teen-age suicide and trying to force people to take action needs a heavy hand if it is to happen.

Rooke ends the show with Oliver Douglas’s poem:

Don’t be a slave to time like a guest
Or insignificant at best
Stand up tall, push out your chest
Create a gospel for the rest.

Douglas died before he could create that gospel. In Happy Hour, Jack Rooke does it for him