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.
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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.