Text: Chris Fittock
Director: Elinor Randle
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
Tmesis Theatre is one of the UK’s most innovative physical theatre companies. The company was founded in 2003 by Kate Cave, Yorgos Karamalegos and Elinor Randle; it was run by Karamalegos and Randle from 2005-2010, when Karamalegos relocated to London. The company is now led by Artistic Director, Elinor Randle. The company further develop physical theatre in the north-west through their annual Physical Fest festival in their home city of Liverpool.
Happy Hour tells the story of the workers on Level 3 who are in a perceptual race against the clock to reach a daily quote of Smiley Faces – a dystopian office world driven by and dependent on the relentless pursuit and collation of happiness. The show is essentially a critique on office culture, the meaninglessness of target-driven data-based work, and the outward pressure – and inner desire – to attain and demonstrate happiness, in a world where targets are arbitrary and success is a split second from failure.
If that sounds a bit grim, Happy Hour is a hilarious hour of physical theatre that weaves a complex and highly detailed path through comedy, dance, slapstick and drama. The cast of four – Dave (Ian Cook), manager Adam (Adam Davies), Jen (Jennifer Essex) and ‘new girl’ (Eleni Edipidi) – delivers four high-energy performances that finely balance four different kinds of controlled hysteria. Each character is detailed, plausible and just insane enough to be fully recognisable to anyone who works in an office environment: delivered with impressive physical skill, comedic acting and depth.
Essentially covering one Monday in the office, Happy Hour is finely controlled whirlwind through everyday exchanges, dream sequences, dance numbers, clever musical choices and physical comedy, all the while terrorised by phone calls from the levels above demanding updates, querying progress and setting new targets, while Adam, Dave, and Jen – not exactly assisted by the new girl – struggle to maintain their equilibrium and keep the team happy and on target.
Happy Hour is a steadying finger on the spinning work-life balance top. Completely successful as a sustained piece of highly comic physical theatre and dance it does tug away the reality behind the smiley face in a way that disconcertingly occurs to you on the way out after the laughter and applause have faded.
The modern world is obsessed with and driven by the desire for happiness and success: ambition is always a good thing, no matter how lacking in value or underpinned by ability. Happy Hour has solid roots in interrogating this too-familiar world and manages to do it with tremendous style, humour and fun. Level 3 does ultimately meet its target of smiley faces with this show.
Runs until 25 November 2016 | Image: Contributed