DramaReviewSouth West

Happiness Ltd – Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter

Writer: Tom Nicholas

Director: Jo Newman

Reviewer: Kelyn Luther

In a world where dating is a swipe left or swipe right, could you make a computer game that tracks and rewards your happiness? As computer game writer Tyler (Liam Salmon) puts it, has his fellow computer game designer Vi (Gabrielle Sheppard) invented a ‘Pokémon Go for clinical depression’?

Sheppard endearingly portrays a quiet but determined game designer, conflicted between her desire to celebrate the small goals of life (getting around to calling friends, getting to bed on time) and her creative ambitions. Writer Tom Nicholas leaves some ambiguity as to which is more satisfactory, as we watch Tyler obsess over completing his achievements and boosting his level of happiness in the game. 

The character of Tyler feels more like a type of gamer nerd, particularly at the beginning when swearing is overused to make his dialogue distinct but Salmon does create pathos, as well as comedy. The friendship between Vi and Tyler feels believable.

One of the highlights of the play is seeing Vi and Tyler playing the game; anyone with a smartphone will recognise the congratulations it gives for achieving your fitness and sleep goals. The decision to have the game utilising augmented reality is an interesting one as we never see the visuals of the game; so to the audience, the actors just appear to be waving their phones around.  Seeing Vi and Tyler in one of their shooter games brings the dynamism of game-playing to the stage in a more physical way, and Chris Menes’ sound design complements this.

There are quite a few gaming inside-jokes and the programme helpfully explains some of the terminology. Having the character of Jean (Rebecca Jade Hammond), a corporate marketing guru but a computer-game novice stops the play from being stuck in gaming metaphors. Hammond captures the chummy attitude of a manager who sees something they can package.

Though Happiness Ltd. is only around 70 minutes long and talking about mental health slowly breaking the taboo it once was, Nicholas’ portrayal of the gamification of happiness is a clever observation on a modern phenomenon (see Twitter, Facebook and Instagram).

Runs until 21 October 2017 | Image: Contributed

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