Preview: Kurt Vonnegut’s only published play Happy Birthday Wanda June comes to the Old Red Lion

The only published play penned by one of America’s greatest and most unique writers comes to the stage this week.

Kurt Vonnegut’s Happy Birthday Wanda June tells the story of a famous US war hero, who re-emerges in the 1960s eight years after disappearing, having been presumed dead.

Although not Vonnegut’s only attempt at drama, it is his single published script – but producer Gemma Lloyd insists this is not for a lack of skill in the medium.

The play is, she says, every bit a match for the inventive fiction of his classic novels, from Slaughterhouse-Five to Cat’s Cradle.

She said: “You can spot the Vonnegut wit a mile off, it’s also provocative and challenging about age old questions between the relationship between men and women, war and power and cultural change.”


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As the press blurb has it, the protagonist returns home to discover “his son has grown into a sissy and his wife is engaged to a hippy”.

Ms Lloyd adds: “We wanted to put on a play that was going challenge people’s preconceptions of theatre, it is a very entertaining story and Kurt Vonnegut writes it deliberately for the theatre, some of the characters address the audience directly and he never pretends it’s not in a theatre for a live audience.”

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In this production, which opens at the Old Red Lion in St John Street, N1, on Tuesday, women have been cast to play men, and the producer explains: “We wanted to address the lack of roles still for women in theatre, and also to entertain the idea that Harold Ryan, the protagonist in the play, lost for eight years, comes back to cultural change. He returns to Beatnik America – and literally he does see everyone as women, included the bearded men.

“We have also cast it colour blind to again address the lack of roles for ethnic minority actors. We have a cast of six and they’re all fantastic.”

Furthering this inclusively agenda, they have teamed up with Stagetext, a charity that captions plays for people who are deaf or have hearing problems.

The play runs from Tuesday (October 30) to Saturday November 24, with the captioned performance on Friday November 23. Tickets �15, visit www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk or call 0844 412 4307.

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