Theatre review: The Happy Theory, The Yard Theatre, E9

Big on heart and soul, Happy Theory is the latest thoughtful and funny production from the brilliant Generation Arts. 

Generation Arts. "The Happy Hour".

Those final weeks of school, as you lay down your pen on your final exam are, thrilling and terrifying in equal measure. It can feel as if you have the world at your feet, inundated with endless possibilities. But the weight of what you’re leaving behind can feel dizzyingly daunting. And not everyone is lucky enough for the end of their education to be the beginning of something bigger and better. 

The Happy Theory follows a group of school leavers as they head out into the world – some heading to Oxford, others to Bath, a couple are couple travelling (including inspiring teacher Denise) and then there are those who can’t find a way out of their current lives.

In between revising their algebra and adverbs (rather ingeniously used by nasty head of year Mr Brennan – Robert O’Reilly, who also does a stunning turn as Kim Kardashian) the teenagers discuss happiness. What is it they ask? Some say branded trainers, big houses, Lotus cars – ‘nice things’ insists orphaned Frank (Ike Nwachukwu). Swotty Elle (she’s the one off to Oxford) retorts: what about billionaire Phones4U boss John Caudwell? His money couldn’t prevent his son’s agoraphobic? Happiness, Elle – and her and her allies – say, comes from within.

We don’t get a definitive answer to the happy theory, but we do see friendships falter, only for the unspoken bond to draw them together again; relationships fail, futures set free. 

Happy Theory is in some ways life imitating art. Generation Arts offers quality, free acting and theatre-making training for young people in the margins. The young people performing tonight are also on the brink of something, something that they may not have had the opportunity to seize without the excellent job the project does.

Happy Theory is a heartwarming, pacey piece of theatre, with performances that range from good to excellent. And the fantastic work of Generation Arts imbues this production with a sense of purpose and heart that we don’t always see at the core of theatre.

For more information on Generation Arts, see here.

 

 

 

Theatre Review: DenMarked at The Courtyard Theatre, N1

A funny, intense, confessional autobiography played out through hip hop, spoken word and Shakespeare.

Conrad Murray performing his autobiographical play DenMarked

Brought up on a succession of south London council estates, Conrad Murray’s future looks set out before it’s even begun. With an upbringing that included violent father, who Murray once sees strangle his mother until her eyeballs bleed, his early brushes with the law, school suspensions and a spell in prison seem inevitable.

But Murray, a gifted performer with a talent for words, is lucky enough have adults in his life who help encourage him to break away from his circumstances. Among those grown-ups is his tenacious social worker Judy and a teacher who gives him a copy of Hamlet.

That copy of Hamlet is central to Murray’s life and too his engaging one-man show that examines how we are – like Hamlet – marked by events in our life and how we react to them.

Like the Danish prince, Murray knows our world is what we perceive it to be, and our place in it is how we imagine it to be – good and bad are nothing more than human concepts. He quotes Hamlet’s line  “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” several times, a reminder that even in the darkest of places, you can find a way out of that cage with a mind reset.

Conrad Murray is an engaging performer, not least because this is his story. Uncomfortable at times – should we be laughing at his counsellor’s Freudian-focused questions or annoyed at their middle class mis-judgement? You get the impression this show is different every night, depending on the audience’s’ reaction to his unflinching life story.

Murray’s big talent, and one that got him out of scrapes, is his gift for beats and rhymes that he demonstrates inbetween the monologue, rapping to live mixes of looped samples. The tunes add another layer to his story, bringing texture and emotion to his background that isn’t there in the text.  The final number in particular was had a wonderful melody overlapped with Murray’s rap and a hook so catchy I was thoroughly caught in Murray’s storytelling net.

DenMarked | The Courtyard Theatre N1 | Until 17 June 2017