Happy Dave

Wed 3rd – Mon 29th August 2016

reviews

Jessica Baxter

at 09:25 on 6th Aug 2016

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Illegal raves do not sound terribly appealing. Thumping house music in a dodgy field saturated in the unrelenting threat of police arriving at any moment – no thanks. But watch 'Happy Dave', a small-scale production by Smoke and Oakum theatre, and you’ll never want to go to a rave more.

'Happy Dave' is a fantastically funny, hard-hitting and stirring play. It has a highly pertinent message about Generation Y and the emptiness of yuppie culture, embodied in the story of Dave, a middle-aged, Canary Wharf city slicker, feeling far past his sell-by date. When he meets a group of millennials, twenty years his junior, his secret yearnings get a new lease of life and a hidden past is revealed.

The experienced Andy McLeod plays the wry, pessimistic character of Dave, a much more palatable Max Branning. The play centres on his attempts to rekindle the 90s rave scene with his newfound friends. They escape the numb, day-in, day-out cityscape of London by dropping and dancing at raves, talking about each time like a liberating baptism that revitalises life to pulse through their dull, worn-out veins. The language of the script itself is strikingly poetic, though the acting is not always spot-on.

At times the younger actors, perhaps less experienced than McLeod, are not terribly convincing, delivering lines slightly ill-timed and not leaving enough time for laughs. Kiell Smith-Bynoe, however, was tremendously versatile; one moment playing a corny City office worker with a flash of fake smile; the next, a boisterous south London youth, swapping personalities like putting on different coats.

There are smatterings of striking spoken word poetry, each one snowballing into the ominous, staccato chants of ‘The rave is dead, the rave is dead’. The slick transitions into these moments are highly effective, dropping truth bombshells in ordinary conversation. ‘Work, sleep, gym, repeat,’ Smith-Bynoe says at one point. ‘Do it enough times and you pay off your student loan. Do it 3000 times and you get a house in France.’

However bleak the message of the play is, there are genuine laugh-out-loud moments. Dave, entering a modern-day club, determinedly dances the Macarena to Big Sean’s charming ‘I Don’t Fuck With You’. Words jump out in their familiarity and earthiness: jokes about Mega Bus, comedowns, awful club music and getting laid are omnipresent, and are actually quite funny.

The story of unhappy Dave is a modern, Jersey Boys-esque tale of the rise and fall of celebrity and power, and is both at once sad and uplifting. Writer and producer Oli Forsyth has done a great job, and I cannot wait to hear what’s next.

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Una O'Sullivan

at 09:58 on 6th Aug 2016

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‘Happy Dave’ is set against the contrasting backdrops of a stale life in an advertising agency, and the clubs and raves which mark out the employees’ weekends. Oli Forsyth’s new script is sharply observed and funny, although could be accused of bashing the current youth culture, in order to better peer through rose-tinted glasses at the 90s rave scene.

The experienced ensemble of five lends compelling acting to the story, with exceptional performances from Andy McLeod (as present-day Dave) and Helen Coles (as Molly/Jess). Clever staging and seamless choreography allow for deft changes between scenes, settings, and character roles, creating a polished performance which allows raw emotion to shine through. A recurring glimpse into Dave’s youth (with Oli Forsyth as Young Dave) offers much-needed sympathy, as his present-day self is quick to denigrate the millennial generation.

Both in the clubs Dave scorns, and in the raves he reveres, the nightlife is painted for the audience by strobe lights and loud house music- an innovative use of the theatre which effectively brings the audience into the story. The suspense created by waiting for the bass to drop manages both to set the scene and heighten the drama. Between scenes, characters narrate with monologues which are at times rap and at times more like slam poetry. These rhythmic interludes, often used to convey the attitudes of the policing authorities, spin a rebellious angle on the voices of authority.

Overall, the play is emotive, powerful, and heartwarming. The twenty-somethings gradually accept the middle-aged Dave into their ranks, in a moving tale which is at times fraught with tension and distrust, but often leaves you with a fuzzy feeling distinct from that which ails the characters on Monday mornings in the office. Sadly, I found the end to the story was abrupt and dissatisfying- perhaps a reflection on how many illegal raves ended in a sudden blaze of sirens and blue lights.

Throughout the play, raves are so glorified that the characters’ only truly happy experiences take place while lost in the all-encompassing beat of the music. The irony that Dave is only happy when surrounded by people trying to escape their day-to-day lives is lost on the characters, as they reiterate the importance of what they are doing for the people. It is a given that the characters, and many of the ravers, are addled by drugs on these nights, but this is not treated in any depth either. The cynic in me wonders, amidst all this blatant escapism, whether Happy Dave is really happy at all?

That said, if escapism is what you’re after at the Fringe, ‘Happy Dave’ is a great story to get lost in.

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