Happy Meal – Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Reviewer: Skylar Mabry

Writer: Tabby Lamb

Director: Jamie Fletcher

The Belgrade is home to the last leg of this tour of Happy Meal by Tabby Lamb, co-produced by Roots Touring, Theatre Royal Plymouth, and in association with Edinburgh Traverse Theatre and Oxford Playhouse. As the audience enters the B2 stage – the smaller venue inside the Belgrade – one of the actors stands onstage in a penguin costume, cheerfully greeting each person in the theatre. This personalised, wordless, flightless welcome sets the room as a safe space and allows the audience to warm up to each other as well.

The play starts off in the world of Club Penguin (which sets off wistful memories for those of us who grew up navigating the mini-games and swearing workarounds of that icy online world), where we are introduced to Al (Sam Crerar) and Bette (Allie Daniel). Bette is a Club Penguin aficionado, while Al is very much discovering the ropes. Later, it becomes clear that these roles are swapped outside of their virtual lives.

These two strike up a virtual friendship, which blossoms via the social media of the early days of the internet, from MSN to MySpace, and sees them both up to Results Day, when they’re supposed to meet up in person for the very first time at Leeds Festival. Al is trans, still working out the tricks to wearing his binder without bruising, and at the festival is taking a big step towards showing up as himself in front of people who knew him differently. Bette shows, but can’t bring herself to introduce herself to Al – the way he sees her online is too different to the way she is seen ‘IRL.’

They lose touch, but both grow and develop as the internet grows and develops. Eventually, they reconnect – still virtually – and discuss the journeys they’ve had, the struggles they still face, and their desire for a safe spot on the bus to enjoy a Happy Meal.

Tabby Lamb expertly crafts ‘chatspeak’ into heartfelt storytelling, which, combined with a creative mixture of set, video, and sound, makes for a simultaneously nostalgic and modern piece of theatre. Ben Stones has crafted two solid cubes which become the virtual homes of each character. The navigation of the virtual world is made clearer and more inviting by the video projection onto these cubes (Daniel Denton), accompanied by a cheery and guiding sound design (Eliyana Evans).

Happy Meal is a lovely story about the journeys we take in order to find the people we’re supposed to have and to be in our lives. Worth watching if you’re part of the queer community, an internet enthusiast, or if you’re neither and just like a good story – Happy Meal is one show not to be missed.

Runs Until 24 September 2022

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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