The World of Extreme Happiness

On November 14, 2013 by

So, being my boyfriend’s 23rd birthday (and being extremely low on cash), we ventured to the National theatre to abuse our Entry Pass tickets once again. Tickets for a fiver – why wouldn’t you?

Knowing that my significant other has a love for all things oriental, we chose ‘The World of Extreme Happiness’, set in China, pre-revolution. Personally, I have no idea when it comes to Chinese history and any reference within the play to historical events or present ones, quite frankly will have gone over my head. However, I did not need this knowledge to be captivated.

At first, the thing playing on my mind most was where I recognised the main character from, only realising afterwards it was the flawless ‘Cho-Chang’ from Harry Potter. It took mere minutes for me to forget this as I transcended into the world of – not such extreme happiness – of Sunni’s life. The play is based around the idea of a horrendous obsession with self-iprovement. A belief that you must be hard-working, devoted to your job and country and ultimately strive for wealth and power. If you are able to do all of this, you will inevitably gain the respect of your peers, and earn the thing all men crave – honour.

However for Sunny, this is not necessarily the case. The young and ambitious country girl leaves behind many of her responsibilities along with an educated brother and the father who never truly appreciated her as anything but his slave.

Being a girl, and a poor one at that, Sunny struggles to find her feet in the big city, owned by corrupt organisations and capitalists. She decides all she wants is a promotion, to be recognised and honoured and is willing to do anything to get it. And I mean anything. She begins as a cleaner of a man’s lavatory and when her boss refuses to give her a promotion as a suicide left a position open, she turns to drastic measures. I did not expect that beautiful Scottish girl from Harry Potter to be reaching down a middle-aged man’s trousers …let’s leave it at that shall we.


After a bombardment of disappointment and talk of suicides, huge gender inequality and the overwhelming power of corporations the play managed to keep its audience laughing. With Slumdog Millionaire-esque moments such as the ‘self-improvement’ class that seemed more like a gameshow than anything else and Sunny’s enthusiasm for life and pushing the boat, it was a delight. Along with some truly great scene transitions – particularly her journey to the city from the country. 

 And then it happened. An audience, enthralled by the delight of this young girl who had risked everything to better herself finally saw her get the chance she had wished for. She had been chosen to represent the company at a public event as part of a publicity stunt covering up their rate of suicides among employees. She was given a script by the company director but would she stick to it? The audience wills her to stand up for herself, convinced that everything will be ok! Screw the script, say what you want. Tell the truth! You’re thinking. Even when throughout the play there has been warnings against it as it will surely bring death.

Sunni approaches the microphone, we hold our breath. She begins. She speaks of inequality, of the mistreatment of the poor and of how her dreams of the big city were crushed! Yes Sunni, keep going. We think. As the security guards surround her, the audience are feeling empowered by the bravery of this young girl. She continues to shout as she is taken away and we are satisfied that right has prevailed.

We sit back, we breathe out. Thank God for that.

The lights take a while to come up again. There, in the middle of the room is our hero, Sunni. There she is… slumped on a chair with bruises all over her, arms in a straightjacket, saliva dripping from her mouth. Eyes vacant and unable to speak we are left for the final five minutes of this delightful Black comedy in despair. Her brother enters, every audience member wills him to break her out, do something courageous. He speaks to her as Sunni makes every effort to blurt out grunts and noises. This beautiful relationship we have witnessed between them, the make believe games they played, it all comes down to this moment. He places her in front of him. He recites the same thing she would say to him as a child,  encouraging him towards self-improvement. Tells her to close her eyes and everything will be ok again. We are astounded by the strength and beauty of this boy. And then…

He holds her. gasp. 

He does not let go. gasp.

Sunni struggles. splutter.

Her brother looks away still holding her tight.


Our hero is dead.


I have never played witness to a production so brilliantly despairing. It does to us what it does to its characters. It builds you up, tells you that if you fight everything will be ok… and then it destroys you. Although it took me a while to be convinced by the childish beliefs of the main characters I warmed to them quickly as the scenes went on. I was unsure of the acting at times as it seemed so over the top. But then, as humans we do overcompensate when we know things are heading for a slump, and when we see the outrageously over-the-top Ming-Ming decline to a state of utter anguish so severe it sees her make an attempt on her own life, my opinion changed. As it did with the final scene. The relationships built within this piece were subtle and beautiful and it was truly a success considering I knew nothing of many of the cast members previously. It seems wrong to say I enjoyed it, but I could watch it several times more and each time my heart would break.

A 9/10 for this for sure. I was moved by it profoundly. I hope others were too.

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