The Happiness Project

Theatre, Experimental
 (® Jack Sain)
® Jack Sain
 (© Jack Sain)
© Jack Sain
 (© Jack Sain)
© Jack Sain
 (© Jack Sain)
© Jack Sain

A bunch of kids try to get to grips with the concept of happiness in this flimsy show

If ‘The Happiness Project’ feels a bit like a school production, that’s because it kind of is one. It’s the result of a two-year study by a group of six academics in response to reports by Unicef and The Children’s Society on the well-being of young people in the developed world, and was co-devised by a group of 12-19 year-olds. And as bad as it feels hating on bright, well-meaning, undoubtedly talented kids... boy, does it show.

Staged without narrative, the play’s awkward format sees kids taking turns to vent frustrations and wrestle emotions, with professors and lecturers popping up for the odd bit of back-and-forth. There are flashes of pseudo-science – an explanation of the brain’s reaction to eating a bacon sandwich makes for an engaging skit – but too much time is spent idly, inconsequentially riffing on the meaning behind an abstract noun.

There are missed opportunities, too. Aside from during a short burst of teenage angst by the eldest of the kids, supported by supported by a video projection of politicians looking mean, the context of growing up in twenty-first-century Britain never really comes to the fore. The show touches on the humour inherent to adults’ and adolescents’ contrasting perspectives on happiness, but it’s an idea that’s discarded far too quickly. Instead, the trite and simplistic conclusion – that, funnily enough, happiness is found in different places by different people – is arrived at early on and then wrung completely dry.

Perhaps I’m just being an utterly heartless bastard, but at the show’s climax, when all the kids start covering a massive blackboard with things that make them happy – like ’sunshine’ and ‘going on holiday’ – I wanted to run out of the room screaming. However, to reiterate the basic message behind ‘The Happiness Project’, each to their own.

By: David Clack


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Staff Writer

Ah Mr Clack, I may need to take you out for a drink to cheer you up a bit and restore some of your sense of wonderment. I loved The Happiness Project. I found the honesty of the performances and the elegance of this devised work to be both touching and thought-provoking. I was genuinely moved by the piece and as the father of a teenage daughter I thought it was particularly poignant. Actually, I do think there was a lot more in it than you describe, there were some very profound and complex issues discussed and reflected on stage. The fact that the whole piece was about the happiness that comes through an expression of shared experience and 'flow' and that this was actually happening to all those who've spent two years working on this piece in front of our eyes was genuinely clever and moving. The process of devising this work was part of the joy and this was carried onto stage. The simple narrative conceit of having a young woman trying to make sense of her own mother's wish for her - 'I don't mind what you do just as long as you're happy' - is actually hugely profound. Each technique and method of grasping at happiness was reflected not just in the words but by the staging and the genuine interaction of everyone there. It was a truly multi-layered, complicated and intricate piece of drama turned into something elegant and simple. Anyway, that's what I took from it. But each to our own. Love you, you lovely beardy man you.

What a jaded view your reviewer must have, when a group of young people and adults showed such joy in performance. It's a cliche to ask if he actually watched the show that we saw, but come on, did he? The whole piece explored this ephemeral subject from every angle, with verve and imagination and was beautifully put together by a team of youngsters and genuine scientists. Look on Twitter to see what real people see about the show, both here and at The Edinburgh Festival. So your reviewer wanted to run out screaming? Nobody did at the performance we saw, as evidenced by the curtain calls. Shame on David Clack for not just being sour, but cruel as well.