When life gives you lemons, sometimes you shouldn’t make lemonade.
An hour in Casale’s and Ryndak’s company is not an hour wasted.
That’s the message at the heart of this hugely inventive and arresting new piece by physical theatre collective RemoteControl, a show which feeds off the manic energy induced when we force ourselves to be happy. Exploring fresh and fertile ground, performers Petra Casale and Christine Ryndak look at how happiness has an abusive, almost drug-like effect: how the euphoric highs only emphasise the crushing lows. As Project HaHa progresses and you uncover the numb desperation underlying the sunny world in which the performance takes place, wry humour eventually gives way to the gnawing realisation that what you’re watching feels fundamentally wrong.
That’s the real strength of the show – Casale and Ryndak have cleverly utilised the nature of their subject matter to create a piece which is both silly and devastating, sometimes simultaneously. Pulling off this balance is no mean feat, and it is thanks to the cohesiveness of the set pieces and the versatility of the performers that so much thematic ground is covered in such a condensed period of time. It is only the segments of spoken word peppered throughout which don’t quite gel with the work as it stands. The crazed atmosphere of the piece is compelling and necessary for the show to work emotionally, but in maintaining this, there is the occasional feeling that the performances are a tad one-note.
Project HaHa is at its most interesting when it moves beyond its clear allusions to bipolar disorder and raises more universal questions about how our human quest for happiness is quietly hurting us. Casale, here evoking the 80s power-woman as she gleefully careers off the rails, is manipulated by Ryndak’s demented enthusiast to blindly ignore her troubles and strive for happiness by any means possible. Here, this means buying into the idealistic rhetoric scrawled on the chalkboard at the back of the stage, or playing the character of the cool chick with the shades strutting down the street. It’s what we’re all inclined to do, but by necessity it involves distancing ourselves from our reality. Similarly, the piece concerns itself with dissecting the all too familiar domestic sphere, reflected in the sparse but detailed set. Comprised of household objects covered in ‘fragile’ shipping tape, it is a TV screen that takes prominence centre-stage, relaying footage of a frustrated woman trapped in her living room. It lingers in the background of the action and plays into one of Project HaHa’s central questions: is it in life’s small pleasures which we can find achievable happiness? Or are these pleasures so slight they instead indicate life’s banality?
Project HaHa is overflowing with interesting ideas and questions like these, which take on an extra relevance at a time when so much emphasis is placed on us aspiring to be the best we can be. An hour in Casale’s and Ryndak’s company is not an hour wasted.