I was invited to see Tabby Lamb’s Happy Meal at Brixton House and made it quite clear that it wasn’t my sort of thing, that I would go in order to be supportive, that I almost certainly wouldn’t enjoy it, that I wouldn’t be reviewing it and that two people prancing around in penguin costumes welcoming and waving at the audience would probably put me off for the duration of the performance, in which I would also be subjected to immersion in the world of social media with its LOLs and IRLs.
An action-packed, humorous and touching production
That I have now put pen to paper is a tribute to everyone involved in the this fabulously sparkling production. The penguins were no more than a warm-up routine, reminding us that whatever adults turn out to be, they were all once fun-loving children. They waddled off as the house lights went down and after a quick costume change Tommi Bryson (she/her) and Sam Crerar (they/he) reappeared to tell the tale of Bette and Alec, respectively. Seeing them casually and colourfully attired, still with an air of Playchool about them, I was almost set to embrace what is dauntingly described in one place as ‘a joyful queer rom-com where Millennial meets Gen Z and change is all around’ and elsewhere as a ‘joyful trans rom-com for the Myspace generation!’ At least both proclaimed an event that would be ‘joyful'.
The play has the structure of multiple journeys that run simultaneously. The characters who start as teens become adults; social media evolves from MySpace to TikTok via many other platforms and cis becomes trans. Entrenched in the digital age our couple inevitably meet online. Hidden behind any persona each chooses, they explore various paths of getting to know each other. Each communicates from behind one of the matching pair of screens designed by Ben Stones from where they peer through the window to the outside world, or maybe just to the Cloud. Meanwhile they are also engaged in playing an online game.
Video designer Daniel Denton has a seemingly endless array of projections that turn the screens in to a hotbed of activity shifting locations and media symbols that combine to form both a stimulus and a commentary. They are a show in themselves, bursting with life and colour surrounded by Kieron Johnson’s dramatic lighting and a soundscape that combines the noises of media platforms with music from across the years.
As they tentatively reveal more about themselves and grow closer together so the moment for an IRL encounter approaches. Alec eventually reveals his intention to transition. This is the point at which in a play less well-crafted the light-hearted banter and the fun-filled exchanges might wither away. Instead the level of emotional intensity is raised, the dialogue assumes greater depth but the trap of self pity and lamentation is cleverly avoided. There’s a hitch in the relationship which is ultimately resolved but that is just an example of the complexities of transitioning and how easy it is for things to be misunderstood. There is no dreary wallowing here, just a refreshing and nuanced message of affirmation. Bryson and Crerar have by this stage created strong but very different characters, each of whom handles life in their own, with their strengths and weaknesses playing out differently in the cyber world and the realm of personal relationships. They might be on a seesaw at times, but it’s one that remains balanced throughout, powered by the positive chemistry between them.
Thus, Happy Meal turned out to be as joyful as promised, in an action-packed, humorous and touching production superbly fashoned by Director Jamie Fletcher, with input from Dramaturg Jennifer Bakst.
Brixton House has currently raised just under £1k towards providing free tickets in support and aid of any Trans, Non-Binary or Gender Non-Conforming person who otherwise could not afford a ticket to see the show as part of their Pay-It-Forward Ticket Scheme. If you would like to contribute or take advantage of the offer, please follow this link: https://bit.ly/HappyMealFund