Review: Happy Place (Touring)

Friday April 21st 2023 at Harrogate Theatre (Studio)


Forget About The Dog’s latest show returns their top notch inventiveness to the stage in a quirky ride through personalised simulations of “happy places”. In this vision of the future, the disenchanted general public are invited to step inside a street-side booth and spend a half hour or so living their fantasies as their best selves – and for no more than the price of a coffee. But as we all know too well, tech can have extraordinary capabilities when it’s working, never mind when it hits a problem. In this case, happy places begin to blur and merge, bringing together unsuspecting customers who are now more interested in escape than escapism…

Written, directed and performed by the company, this show is brought to life by a cast of four who take on various roles while also offering swift sequences of playful puppetry. The puppetry in particular wins on two fronts: as a source of great dry humour and as a canny way to suggest scale and expansive locations when working within the constraints of black box theatre. As with their previous show, 100 Ways to Tie a Shoelace, this company is beautifully adept at engaging imaginations and convincing audiences through precise physicality and evocative sound (by Robin Leitch) and lighting designs (Lucy Dennant) that we could be everywhere and anywhere at any given time.

So Dylan (Jordan Larkin) the gigging singer’s happy place tells us a lot about his big-time dreams while also bringing some great live music to the piece (with Larkin also penning original music for the show). Joshua Ling’s Ned is a sweetheart of the Sheldon Cooper/ Raj Koothrappali variety, offering a happy place full of valiant intentions, high drama and of course, a fair bit of peril as he lives his best Dungeons and Dragons-inspired life as “Grangor the Gorgon Slayer” (with associated music being a particularly strong running gag).

Leanne Stenson’s buoyant but cryptic primary character doesn’t offer a specific happy place and instead provides little more than hints as to what her idea of happiness holds. Stenson’s call centre character is a great TOWIE-type comic figure though – matched in energy only by Ling’s very enthusiastic waiter. Robin Leitch brings plenty of entertainment as the infinitely unimpressed workman Jummy: the equivalent of a tired grown up at the clown-themed kid’s party and therefore a real hoot as he is forced to tag along with this trio of customers.

The show is certainly a lot of fun, with plenty of creative moments of flair and humour. But there also seems to be a bit of a comment here on tech culture: reliance on technology and virtual reality for happiness is a slippery slope and we do seem to be leaning more towards such tech-driven gratification by the day. It’s nice to know that at least within the world conjured in Happy Place, tech-based happiness isn’t the be-all and end-all!

Happy Place tours until June 13th 2023 – you can find more information on dates, venues and tickets here.

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