Review by Flossie Waite
Presented by Told by an Idiot
17th – 30th December 2015
For ages 4+
One of the founders of Pixar Films said that the company’s target audience is “basically anybody who breathes.” It was this sentiment that helped to form the genesis of Get Happy, according to director Paul Hunter. There’s always the danger though, that in trying to appeal to everyone, no one leaves entirely satisfied; Told by an Idiot’s show flirts with this risk.
Get Happy is a combination of variety performance and sketch show. One minute, a man is falling onto an egg sandwich, the next, a woman is doing an interpretive dance about bannisters. Without narrative, it strings together scenes of physical silliness and acrobatics, mimicking a child’s ability to bounce from one idea to the next. But while children have clearly influenced the show’s structure, the content takes its young audience for granted, assuming that daftness and absurdity, without context or purpose, will be enough to entertain them.
While labels can be limiting, actually the term ‘children’s theatre’ (or theatre for young audiences etc) signifies and alludes to the fact that children are a different audience. They have different wants and needs, which can only be understood through rigorous and complicated exercises in empathy, and which cannot be taken for granted. That doesn’t mean they need dumbed down concepts, just a different approach: as an example, there have recently been a couple of successful children’s productions heavily inspired by Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.
With a young audience, the stakes are higher – they are vocal, and if they don’t like a performance, there’s little that stops them crying and running around. Shows have to earn their attention, and that means finding out what works, if possible involving children in the creative process in some way. At best, this leads to polished productions with real insight into what makes its audience tick; approaching theatre-making with this research and care is far more likely to produce high-quality shows that appeal to a wide age-range. Good theatre for children is good theatre for adults, but it doesn’t necessarily work the other way around. The sense with Get Happy is that the creative team thought a family audience gives them carte blanche to play around, rather than think too carefully about their play.
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