This review will consider Generation Arts’s The Happy Theory at the Yard Theatre in London, directed by Ali Godfrey.
I will first start by saying that this performance most certainly encapsulated the essences of a range of emotions, from awkwardness, to sadness, to frustration, to happiness. And I most certainly left the venue feeling elated. This performance successfully interrogated what it is to be happy.
Characterisation was good all round, and an especially good performance came from Robert O’Reilly, Kyrae Patterson, and Helder Fernandes. In some places, characterisations were perhaps hyperactive from the entire cast, and whilst the characters’ dialect represented the average argot of modern London youth, a lot of dialogue came across as staged or wooden, as opposed to naturalistic.
In terms of acting style, I found this to be quite confused. This performance had a stylised beginning preceding a realistic style of acting, interlaced with moments of dance or physical theatre. Whilst the latter of these three aided in fastening the momentum of the performance, I couldn’t help but find it unnecessary and unrelated. Whilst the plot was mirrored in some dances, and whilst the repeated slow motion lifting of chairs above the head was potentially evocative of education/systematisation and its relationship with euphoria and personal/professional development, I felt this was perhaps a bit too much of a stretch. Furthermore, mixing the mimic visuals of dance with actual props also seemed somewhat misguided, and little things, such as empty phone cases for phones, and writing pads that were empty, took away from the possible illusions of the piece. However, in areas, the physical aspects of the performance did, of course, serve the action effectively: a bustling ensemble bumping into Denise (Adrienne Bailey), a flippant and hostile mass at prom. As for the stylised beginning, whilst very comical and endearing, this seemed to have no correlation with the rest of the performance at all, and these things caused the style of the performance to sit uneasily with me.
As for costume, this was well reminiscent of modern youth and served the piece well. Lighting complemented the change of styles effectively, but spots could have been sharper in the beginning section and more focused towards the middle in dialogues between Andrew (Zachary Spooner) and Frank (Ike Nwachukwu). As for sound, the use of voice recordings really helped to contextualise and narrate the performance. I found the voices from different age groups was efficacious and made the message of the piece more poignant. The choice of sound along with that of music also helped to anchor the series of dances and movements and situate them well within the imagined space. And finally, for set, the various square patches of vibrant colours alluded effectively to the emotions and sentiments that we so often, as people, attribute to them. The goings-on within the wings could have been better hidden, though.
The realistic side of the performance was gripping. There was a refreshing balance of comedy and seriousness, and all performers had honed in their characters very well, giving them set traits and personae. When it comes to the ideas behind the realism, however, the plot could have been more polished. I felt the setting of a two-teacher school environment paired with three main areas of focus (i.e. popularity, technology and cancer) were quite go-to and underdeveloped. Perhaps it would have been worthwhile to take just one of these areas of focus and interrogate it more profoundly. This would have perhaps opened doors to a more playful performance style wherein a theme of happiness could have been profoundly explored using a wider array of performing methods.
This was, however, a very enjoyable piece of theatre, and I commend all of the cast members for a deserving performance. Generation Arts is most certainly making theatre with great potential and direction for young theatre-makers and performers.
“A versatile performance, though misguided in places.”