Written by: Carl Bland
Directed by: Carl Bland and Ben Crowder
Running at Circa Theatre until 30th Sep
Reviewed by: Madelaine Empson
Binka (Jennifer Ludlam) is a guinea pig. Paul (Joel Tobeck) is a human conducting experiments on her. Lonely and alone, they only have each other, but they cannot communicate. Both just want to be happy.
Andrew Foster might have made the set of the year. I Want To Be Happy begins in a lab with two cages onstage: a miniature one that Paul scrutinises, poking and prodding Binka as he laments his state of affairs, and a giant one where Ludlam performs. I don’t want to give too much away, but what follows is inimitable stage magic, with set and prop tricks that elicit audience-wide giggles, scene changes featuring an ingenious use of LEDs (lighting designer Sean Lynch) and astounding costumes I wish I could’ve photographed (designed by Elizabeth Whiting, realised by The Costume Studio).
Carl Bland’s script resembles two separate poems magnetised like atoms, at its most compelling when Binka and Paul’s dialogue collides. Paul is the kind of rare character you love to hate and hate to love. Tobeck’s intricate performance imbues an emotionally stunted man with vulnerability, while Ludlam breaks our collective heart with her captivating, powerful portrayal of a guinea pig. It’s one I buy without question.
This Nightsong production gave me a thrill I never thought I’d get to relive: the first time I watched a Disney movie. I recall inching ever closer to the screen, my nose practically booping Timon as I cheered Simba on, booed Scar, sobbed when Mufasa died, swooned at the love songs, and rejoiced when the lions took pride of place at Pride Rock. A Disney adventure for grownups, I Want To Be Happy takes the viewer on a rollercoaster of adrenaline highs and devastating lows as it plumbs the depths of poignant themes like loneliness and loss, friendship and family, and above all, communication. I leaned so far forward in my chair I nearly fell out of it. I’ve never been so emotionally invested in a guinea pig.