Army @ The Fringe, Edinburgh – until 25 August 2019
Guest reviewer: Federica Balbi
The first thing that strikes about The Happiness Project is the colours. Shocking pink and neon yellow on a plain background and plastic-grass floor.
Five actors are on stage, each willing to tell his, her, or their story. And the topic of queer identities couldn’t be explored in a more delicate way.
First, Rosalind McAndrew tries presenting her spoken-word piece, but this does not work very well. This type of theatre is discarded right away: the performance to come does not fit into the most common genres of shows. The actors need to find their own way, through their own words.
The Happiness Project is an unconventional performance, where the protagonists represent themselves – maybe because they are often forced to act and conceal. It is a heart-to-heart without self-pity, proselytising or hate. Nicholas Alban, Rosalind McAndrew, Georgia Dunn, Ryan Lithgow and Ink Asher Hemp mainly perform monologues, and as one is speaking, the others are on their phones.
Is it disturbing? Not so much, or not for everybody: the presence of quiet actors on stage is made easier and ʻnaturalʼ (this last adjective to be read with sarcasm). Because phones are characters of the play as well: powerful means of mass alienation, through the ocean of social media. They are a substitute for being present, that lessens even more the already socially-condemned physical contact.
One of the main points of the performance is to recall the importance of non-sexual physical contact. Experiments show that hugs, for instance, have huge benefits on the body and the psyche if they last more than 20 seconds.
Creative Electric is a company devoted to this kind of engaged theatre which aims to have an impact on society which is potentially discouraging. Have no fear: this work does not defy received ideas through attacks or political tirades, but by positively proposing a way of thinking and rethinking our society. Even more intriguingly, it is performed in the headquarters of the Lowland Band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland V.
Heather Marshall’s direction brilliantly faces and brings to the stage these and other delicate topics, such as porn, sex education, rape, and Asperger syndrome.
Despite and through the refusal of classic theatre mechanisms, this performance is humorous and funny, sensitive and affectionate, a collage of scenes and lives that conveys a strong but loving message, and ends with a moment of utter hope.
Running time: 50 minutes (no interval)
Army @The Fringe in Association with Summerhall, 89 East Claremont Street, EH7 4HU (Venue 210)
Shows: Friday 2 – Sunday 25 August
Friday – Sunday only: 2.20 pm
Tickets and details: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/happiness-project
Company site: http://www.creative-electric.org