An experiment that doesn’t quite deliver, We’re Probably Really Really Happy Right Now at Theatre Works is nevertheless a deeply interesting work of queer performance, says Gully Thompson
Experimental theatre is a wild and often tumultuous field, and it’s sometimes difficult to grasp what a work is achieving. Sometimes a piece is inspiring in the sheer breadth of its themes and ideas; at others, experimental theatre can seem loosely structured and inaccessible to its audience. I personally find interest and potential in all theatre that experiments and pushes the boundaries. However, We’re Probably Really Really Happy Right Now – an abstract work that defies structure – sometimes felt as if it lost itself in its own production, although it still offers an interesting perspective and is an original experiment.
Written by Ellen Grimshaw and directed by Sarah Vickery, We’re Probably Really Really Happy Right Now is difficult to explain. The show is avant-garde, abstract and follows a non-linear structure in which characters jump and skip from scene to scene and race from one idea to the next. It aims to tackle many ideas and concepts and in places mock them, ranging from workplace power dynamics to tall poppy syndrome. Its seven characters – who are charismatic, highly energised and sometimes seem to represent the ideas conveyed in the piece – are portrayed in a Bouffon-style performance.
It’s performed at Theatre Works, where the structure of the space profoundly affects the dynamic between audience and performer. Theatre Works has provided an innovative approach to Covid-safe seating – four long glass booths surround the stage, each hosting a small number of audience members. The seating and the boxes themselves interact in an interesting manner with the piece, creating an unusual power dynamic.
This space gives theatrical equality to each performer and is visually interesting, but what is fascinating is how the Bouffon form works with the construction of the show and the space. Being seated higher than the performers created a sense of power which felt connected to the jester-like portrayal of the characters. It almost felt as if the show was communicating that these characters were for our amusement, and that the ideas it aims to portray are ridiculous and worth poking fun at.
The ideas are interesting to reflect upon. One of the most notable themes involves the representations of gender roles and misogyny. This is reflected in the gender diversity of the casting, which comprises trans, non-binary and cisgender actors. This provides an original and progressive lens through which to view gender norms and diversity. It canvases issues faced by millennials, such as dating, the workplace, social media and loneliness in the digital age, and the loose structure of the show blends all these ideas together into one large reflection on social expectations and our place in the world. However, I felt that the development of these ideas and how they were communicated through the production didn’t quite meet their potential.
Structurally, scenes don’t ever quite seem to begin or end. Scenes, and therefore concepts, transition abruptly and quickly before I could really feel their impact or perspective. Each concept felt more to me like a statement, rather than a reflection of the nature of these pressures and how they affect these characters. I was interested in them and eventually felt for the struggles faced by the characters, but if the show was advertising its core theme as deconstructing these ideas, this is not what I personally received. It just didn’t quite feel that there was enough time to allow the audience to interpret and feel their way through each scene.
The enthusiasm conveyed by the actors in this piece was consistently bold and has impact on how these concepts are delivered. The energy of the characters is vivid – so much so that the delivery and construction of the show felt a little overwhelming. The constant skipping and running and shouting needed an element of variation. It is interesting and theatrically unique when first introduced, but I began to grow weary and feel the need for a change in the pace and energy of the show.
Because of the commendable use of surtitles for people with impaired hearing, the audience is able to read the script as the show goes along, and I noticed a distinct difference between the dramatic structure of the writing and its direction. The script seemed to permit more breathing room and space for reflection than I could find in this production. The show is stylistically original and dramatically unique, but the constant enthusiasm and energy obscures the possibility of more conceptual development and limits the time the audience has to process what it’s saying.
As queer theatre which draws on multiple theatrical forms, I was most interested in the elements that oppose and reject theatrical norms. Technology – surtitles, live camera work and audience dynamics where characters stand almost confrontationally before audience members seated in the glass boxes – are all well used. While I felt they were obscured by its loose conceptual structure, they gave us moments of audience engagement and felt necessary and interesting.
Perhaps this show was simply trying to do too much. The difficulty I feel is represented in its title – We’re Probably Really Really Happy Right Now. There’s an emotional and conceptual uncertainty at the piece’s core, and while this conceptual ambiguity is deliberate, the show doesn’t really deliver on a defined idea that encompasses the work. Mainly, I felt if there were more variation in the production and if the structure were developed further, it might have spoken more clearly.
We’re Probably Really Really Happy Right Now, written by Ellen Grimshaw, directed by Sarah Vickery. Lighting design by Gabe Bethune, costume and set design by Bethany J Fellows. Performed by Anjelica Angwin, Henry Kelly, Hannah Lagudah, Romaine Mcsweeney, Vivian Nguyen, Alexander Thew and Yuchen Wang. Theatre Works until March 6. Bookings
WARNINGS: Adult Themes, Coarse Language, Smoking on Stage, Drug and Alcohol Abuse Reference/Use, Reference to sexual harassment/assault, physical violence, Misogynistic Commentary.
Although done in a way which intends to empower victims; sensitive racial, sexual and misogynistic commentary/issues are discussed which could be triggering for some audience members.
Open captions. Contact Theatre Works for wheelchair accessible seating options.