Review: GET HAPPY, Barbican Pit

A kaleidoscopic slice of warm-hearted whimsy

By: Dec. 11, 2023
Review: GET HAPPY, Barbican Pit

Review: GET HAPPY, Barbican Pit

Tucked away in the corner of the Barbican away from the dark gloom of wintery London is a kaleidoscopic slice of warm-hearted whimsy. The audience enter through draped curtains as if crossing the border into a surreal world with its own gleeful rules and surreal logic. And they won’t want to leave.

It’s very much the time of year for seasonal silliness, and whilst run-of-the-mill pantomimes are a safe choice, they are also a predictable one. Theatre company Told by an Idiot’s Get Happy is anything but that. A family friendly variety show incorporating clowning, dance, and music, wrapped in a glistening bundle of fun.

There is an indescribable pleasure in its meandering genius. Each whimsical vignette is totally unpredictable: a mime violinist standing against her actual violin playing counterpart. A picnic with flying ketchup bottles. Impromptu musical statues. Its all-encompassing sense of irresistible nonsensical is total escapism.

But there is method in the madness. The company (Katy Ellis, Kyll Thomas-Cole, Nick Haverson, and Rachel Donovan) are armed with a smorgasbord of props injecting the inane with the insane, playfully turning everything on its head - nothing is what it is in the normal world.

That’s the beauty of clowning, an art form shamefully underappreciated in the UK except within a few hushed corners of the Fringe. Our instinct is to laugh at the eccentric weirdness, and rightfully so. But there’s a metaphysical charm to the way a colander becomes a helmet, or the way a clump of brown string becomes spaghetti bolognaise that unlocks a childlike craving for chaos within us.

If you don’t believe me then ask the young audience gaping wide eyed at the imaginative acrobatics. The Barbican Pit is transformed into a cross between a lounge and playground with cushions and sofas arranged in the round. White sheets dangle above as a sort of pillow fort.  

Haverson’s gruff-faced fall guy is on the receiving end of slapstick harm from Thomas-Cole and Donovan, his scruffy physicality channelling strong notes of Keaton and Chaplin. Ellis is on hand with live music, supercharging the performance with palpable electricity.

The sketches that teeter on untethered absurdism are the weakest of the bunch. One repeated gag sees a human sized white rabbit prance around whilst Flanagan and Allen’s Run Rabbit Run (sounding more eerie than usual) murmurs over the speakers.

Although in keeping with the surreal wackiness, it sends the comic proceedings off-kilter with a delve into the uncanny, a tad reminiscent of Donnie Darko. Maybe it’s good for kids to be introduced to fear at a young age (I am part of the generation scarred by the absolute terror that was Teletubbies’ The Lion and The Bear). But for Get Happy this seems out of place and unintentional.

Get Happy plays at the Barbican until Tuesday 19 December

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan