Theatre Review: Happy Place

(L-R) Jordan Larkin, Leanne Stenson, Robin Leitch, Joshua Ling, Photograph by Matthew McHale

Yorkshire-based theatre company and supported artists of Harrogate Theatre, Forget About The Dog, present the debut performance of their new devised show Happy Place.

The show, produced by Natalie Rawel, imagines a world where even our own happiness has been commodified and commercialised, and centres around the concept of ‘Happy Places’ or ‘HPs’: interactive pods where the user can step inside and be whisked away to a personalised non-reality that takes away all their worries, if only for thirty minutes. Utopia or dystopia – you decide!

Whilst some of the initial set-up could be pacier, the show really takes off once we have been introduced to all our four heroes – Jordan Larkin as Dylan (wannabe superstar musician), Leanne Stenson as Tamsin (scented-candle obsessive), Joshua Ling as Grangor the Gorgan slayer (a.k.a. Ned who lives above the chippy), and Robin Leitch as Jummy (put-upon employee of the Happy Place who’d really rather be at home eating dinner). Due to a system error, the unlikely bunch find themselves trapped together inside a malfunctioning Happy Place – battling blizzards, hydra, and their own insecurities.

Together, the four bring an infectious energy that radiates to the audience and the pay-off on opening night is buckets of laughter, particularly at Grangor’s ingenious reccurring personalised theme tune (sound design by Robin Leitch). The actors also incorporate highly engaging and effective puppetry and storytelling into the performance, with these sections including some of the best comic writing and delivery of the whole piece. Add to this live music, physical theatre, and multi-roling, and the eighty-minute quest whizzes by jollily.

Of course, our characters also confront some home-truths when they realise that the promised happiness in the Happy Place is an artificial quick fix, but whilst it’s not all laugh-a-minute, the more sentimental moments are delicately played, so the message never feels heavy handed or didactic. Meaning the audience could either leave beaming about a fun night back at the theatre, or ready to re-evaluate their life…

Happy Place previewed at Harrogate Grammar School 23rd and 24th September, and at Stage One, Leeds 29th and 30th September 2021. You can follow Forget About The Dog on Twitter for future updates on where the show goes next.

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