‘A love of life might not have been better depicted on stage than a lone person joyfully rollerskating naked’: Robert Reid on Andi Snelling’s Happy Go Wrong
Andi Snelling’s Happy Go Wrong is a captivating, honest and powerful embodiment of the ongoing personal fight against a chronic health condition, in Snelling’s case, Lyme disease. Yet, at another level, Happy Go Wrong goes deeper than that.
The struggle here is not only one artists battle to make their work despite a chronic and persistent condition, but also the fight for the women of the Australian theatre community to be recognised for their contribution to history and their ongoing body of work.
In Snelling, the strong dancer, the intelligent story teller, the meticulously detailed clown, I can’t help but also see echoes of Evelyn Krape, Alison Richards, Tee O’Neill, Sandra Long, Melanie Beddie, Yvonne Virsik, and so many more, all of whom made or make work that deserves to be seen by a wider audience and on the main stages.
Snelling emerges into the tiny black box that is the Burrow Underground, on roller skates and French accent. She is an angel, she tells us, flapping invisible wings that we can see reflected in her delighted grin, sent to help an Australian girl named “Andi” to find herself, and make her art, from her greatest battle – against the effects of the Lyme Disease she contracted.
Lyme disease presents with a range of symptoms that can include joint pain, severe headaches, neck pain, fever, loss of movement in one or both sides of the face, heart palpitations and can in some instances have fatal complications.
Happy Go Wrong is the sort of show that will be described as brave and honest, Snelling tells her own story and shows us herself at some of her highest and lowest moments, but much more than this is finely crafted. Each image is crisp and clear, each idea is articulate and each moment is alive and responsive to the audience.
Snelling never for a moment gives the impression of having forgotten that we are there nor that she doesn’t care if we are or not. People in the audience cough, she reacts. People laugh at unexpected places, she plays along, draws out the laugh, draws more laughs on top of it, just with her amazingly expressive face.
The background of brown paper clouds on a black theatre wall and some giant piles of crumpled brown paper in the corners is evocative of a Sunday edition comic strip and the way the light, the haze and the size of the venue some how make the air seem thick with colour.
Between pre-recorded absurdist phone menus at hospitals which become increasingly labyrinthine, and direct address by the disease, Snelling moves through physical theatre representations of exhaustion, frustration, desperation and irritation while waiting for a diagnosis and finding her own cures.
Andi “herself” only begins to speak as a character towards the very end. More often we’ve only heard her in grunts of pain, cries of frustration, or wild laughter. Seeing her fight with the mounds of brown paper and hearing the tremendous roar that such a mass of paper can make in a little room, its hard not to feel the tears of rage and exhaustion that inevitably come from the woman caught in the knot of it all.
And a love of life might not have been better depicted on stage than a lone person joyfully rollerskating naked in front of a room full of mostly strangers.
There’s no sense of being fourth walled out of this show, you are absolutely in the room with her all the time. This is the kind of show that, if all things were really equal, should be remounted at one of the bigger venues and taken to a much wider audience. The people going to see Bryony Kimmings right now, need to know about Andi Snelling.
Happy Go Wrong, created and performed by Andi Snelling, directed by Danielle Cresp. Sound by Caleb Garfinkle. Presented at the Burrow Underground as part of Melbourne Fringe. Burrow Studio at Melbourne Fringe. Until September 29. Bookings