Marry Woodward at the Festivals!

Happy Meal by Tabby Lamb, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe, Review

**** (4 stars)

It’s been snowing.

There’s a penguin, wearing headphones and a yellow scarf, bopping away, waving to us as we enter, and encouraging us to join in its little dance.  There’s another one lurking in a booth…

I didn’t expect this!

Tabby Lamb’s Happy Meal is a fascinating, subtle, multilayered piece.  

At one level, it is a lively, brightly-coloured, heart-warming queer romcom, but it’s so much more than that.  Two people who meet on line “in the quaint days of dial up and MSN” are each working out who they really are and how they want to present themselves to the world around them, while also beginning the ‘getting to know you’ dance with someone new.  

Al and Bette first meet as penguins taking part in [I think] a downhill skiing race – as you do…  It’s obvious that Bette is infinitely more experienced at this on line game than Al is, but she takes pity on the novice and offers to show him how to play.  They start getting to know each other on line, exchanging personal profiles, favourite tv shows, music, films, bands etc, from which it becomes clear that they are very different but find each other fascinating.

Conducting a relationship on line has its own challenges.  Secrets can be kept but misunderstandings easily happen, especially when assumptions are made about the other person from things they say, when their words could have very different meanings.  And it’s so hard to sort things out if one person logs off and refuses to resume contact, while frantic attempts to make things better when technology malfunctions, or parents suddenly decide they need to use the dial-up connection!

On line relationships have their good points, too.  It’s easy to appear confident and in control, safely protected from the real world with its rejections, mockery, harassment, and that soul-searing knowledge of ‘not fitting in’.  And it’s easy to be unaware that that apparent confidence can itself intimidate the less confident, making them feel they must continue to keep their true self hidden.

The pluses and minuses all play their part in Al and Bette’s relationship as they survive their teenage years and make it through university.  Allie Daniel and Sam Crerar are simply stunning as Bette and Al – funny, passionate, energetic, exuberant, terrified, mixed-up and yet by the end of the show completely sure of who they are and how they want to live their lives.  Happy Meal is a superb affirmation and celebration of difference, while at the same time reminding us that, underneath our differences, we are all human and simply want to be seen, accepted, and loved for we really are.

Happy Meal made me very aware of how little I know about or use social media, IT, on line games / worlds, and most modern forms of communication – but this didn’t stop me enjoying the show enormously! Other audience members got the cultural references and laughed out loud.  A lot.  And we all applauded vigorously at the end.

Mary Woodward

Happy Meal by Tabby Lamb, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe, For Tickets go to: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/happy-meal

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