Review: Happy as Larry

They are big questions, aren’t they? Happiness: what is it, and how do different people respond to it?

Shaun Parker bases a few answers, rather loosely, on the Enneagram, a personality classification system devised by a Chilean, Claudio Naranjo, in the 1950s, which identifies nine types of people, including the Perfectionist, the Performer, the Optimist and the Giver. It helps, but is not essential, to have this bit of background knowledge to enjoy Happy as Larry, which is already underway when we enter the theatre, with a man, Timothy Ohl, back to us, carefully drawing at one end of a black wall stretching across the stage a symmetrical square of stick figures, above which he then writes ‘You’ and an arrow pointing down, then a lone figure, and ‘Me’. An arc of balloons rises mysteriously behind the wall, contrasting joyfully with the wall’s serious blackness, This wall is a 10th character in the cast. Pushed halfway back, it is turned around to change scenes, climbed up, leapt from, gradually filled with chalk drawings and words. One on occasion the protagonist (I think we’ll call him Larry? He’s the Tragic Romantic type, anyway) writes ‘I need company’. The others gather round, then leave forlornly when he changes it to ‘I don’t need anyone’. But when he turns around and sees them all gone, he chalks up ‘Only joking’: being happy can be a serious business. The Performer, Jana Castillo, after a series of bright demonstrations of ballet technique, finds her legs buckling beneath her, and the same thing happens to an athletic Joshua Thomson, who collapses after entertaining his friends with some spectacular balances, handstands, backflips and turns. Then there’s the roller skater, Adelaide’s Lewis Rankin, who has some alarming crashes to the floor, but later a triumphant high speed circling of the stage, and some good fun on pointe. The mixture of contemporary dance, breakdance, physical theatre, ballet and gymnastics is a great exhibition of where dance and dancers are now in their diversity and sheer expertise. The group has a true ensemble feel about it, their interaction close and personal. Parker’s choreography moves easily through a rich variety of styles, and the dancers respond with acute rhythmic and dramatic sense. There’s tenderness, too – in particular in a sequence where Ohl traces on the wall with his chalk around the arms, head and body of Sophia Ndaba as she entwines herself around him. But as I’ve implied already, where there’s an upside, there’s also a downside, and exuberance, of which there’s plenty, is counterbalanced by melancholy. A girl dances happily while Ohl completes a big gold star on the wall, for instance. Delighted, she jumps up and down against it, then on turning discovers she has smudged it all. The music of Nick Wales and Bree van Reyk is an eclectic mix, with strong use of strings as well as electronic booms and whistles and finally a terrific beat number, which the cast match in strict tempo. Vibrant as it is, this sequence loses impact by being too long, until Ohl is left alone lying on the stage, and the balloon arc slowly descends – the situation is not looking so happy. But turning himself over, he looks at the lowering balloons, reaches up and snaps his fingers at them. They obey his command and zoom up again. Man is master of his fate after all – and that, surely, must be happiness.   Happy as Larry Choreography: Shaun Parker Dunstan Playhouse Continues until Saturday, August 17 Tickets: $22.50-$52 Bookings: 131 246, online or at the theatre

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