Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin
Walking into Circa One the set (Andrew Foster) immediately takes my breath away. It is one piece of the entire, impressive design of this show. The set is in two halves, to my right there is a hamster cage on a trolley, a stool to sit on and a door against the wall, to my left there is a massive version of that hamster cage but facing towards the audience as the smaller version is facing away. This is to conceal the smaller cage and present to us a larger version of what’s going on within it: Binka (Jennifer Ludlam). Binka is trapped within the cage and is used in this lab for experiments and breeding programmes. We have other furry friends (Milo Cawthorne) join Binka, which I deliberately won’t disclose too much about, because the costumes (Elizabeth Whiting) are another part of the complete design package this show really delivers on. Some costumes are more elaborate than others but they are all excellent and exist so cohesively in this massive (and did I mention moving?!) set. The sound (Composer John Gibson) and lighting design (Sean Lynch) both complement each other and the set and costume design elements. There are particular motifs attached to certain characters and feelings which are revisited through the piece and are used very effectively during moments of physical stillness, giving them a cerebral third dimension. The lighting design is sharp and clinical when it needs to be and elevates moments beautifully. I Want To Be Happy is a visually stunning piece.
The themes of the show are quite simple and are done effectively. My impression is that the piece works with a subsection of the idea that humans are animals: that humans are pets of our own design. We put each other in cages that we constructed and are upset when others escape the prisons we created for them. The lab technician Paul (Joel Tobeck) is an emotionally detached man who is experiencing his wife leaving him. All through the play we have Binka and Paul having parallel stories occuring. Binka knows Paul is speaking but can’t understand him, Paul doesn’t even know Binka is speaking even though we as the audience can hear and understand them both. The messages come clearly through these separate journeys. Binka’s is to escape something they’ve known their entire life, enforced by someone/thing much larger and older than they are, and Paul is constantly grappling with a life partner who does not want to be caged by him any more. It’s an easy concept to engage with and a satisfying contrast. It’s not exactly a new conversation but it doesn’t need to be! A simple idea done well is just as good! Ludlam and Tobeck take what could have been two disjointed performances happening at the same time and make an immersive and interwoven story that is enticing from start to finish.
If I were to offer one piece of creative feedback it’s that blackouts really kill the momentum. There are more than a handful of blackouts during the show and within some of them is when the set moves. I would love it if we could see the set move. It’s a tech-heavy set, it’s impressive (shoutout to Stage Manager Amanda Jor and Technical Operator Niamh Campbell-Ward), I find myself using what little light there is in the theatre to adjust my eyes so I can see it moving. I think you should keep some lights on. If you’ve put that much time, money, and effort into making the thing move, then let us see it! I don’t think it breaks any illusions, I think audiences are going to be forgiving anyway since we can see the little stuff-toy guinea pigs getting dragged along the stage.
I Want To Be Happy is a fun, a little bit thought provoking, and is on until the 30th September in Circa One, find more information here.