Review: Get Happy, Barbican Centre
Published in the Telegraph, 20.12.2013
The Told By An Idiot company seems almost tailor-made for childrens’ theatre. They’ve been gleefully clowning about, often mixing the professorial with a good old-fashioned pratfall, for the last 20 years, so it’s slightly surprising that this is their first show for young audiences.
Get Happy is a variety show of sorts, a series of turns and sketches arranged without any overriding sense of direction or logic. It swerves this way then that, with dance routines stopping abruptly for a man to dive off a stepladder into a paddling pool. A classical violin concerto collapses into a blast of the old-school hip-hop anthem Jump Around, and a holdall bag plops down from the ceiling.
All of which is delirious and light-headed, whisked up with surreal images and a perplexing unpredictability. But it is nonetheless peculiarly well-behaved, especially for a show that aims, as Hunter’s programme note puts it, “to genuinely let go with a very young audience”. You want handbrake turns and emergency stops. Instead, there’s a softer sense of indecision, as if no-one’s quite sure what should come next. Compared with brash and messy Saturday morning television fare such as Dick and Dom, Get Happy minds its Ps and Qs.
Rather than whipping the kids into a frenzy, the Idiots have kept their adult audience in mind. There’s something rather too aesthetically pleasing about all this. Elegant though its Pina Bausch-inspired sequences are, they never trigger the same vocal reaction that Michael Ureta’s break-dancing earns in other moments.
Toddlers, it seems, haven’t really grasped the appeal of graceful amateurism.
Still, there’s a fine line in silliness here, even if it retains a little too much poise at times. The four performers are dressed formally, in dinner jackets and cocktail dress, making their simple mucking about look all the more absurd.
Stephen Harper is a particularly droll clown, whether falling chest-first onto an egg, waiting tables while attached to a bungee or being swallowed by a pair of oversized trousers.
The combination of high art and base stupidity – beauty and idiocy – is an intriguing one and, by coaxing the kids onstage to join in, Get Happy plants the idea that it’s all a big, fun game. But it’s hard to forget that this could be even more fun if it played harder.
Photograph: Manuel Harlan