I got lost on the way to Bring The Happy at The Albany, because I live in north London, and postcodes beginning with SE are terra incognita. So I arrived late and alone to a show about the personal memories of the people of Deptford, that unknown land, having to find a seat in a dark room full of families and friends and dates sitting at round tables with glasses of wine and roses in vases. I should have hated it.
But I didn’t, because this is a show that you can’t watch as a miserable cynic, that you have to see as part of an audience – that special collective noun. It’s about community and the emotion that makes everyone human, and Invisible Flock (Ben Eaton, Victoria Pratt and Richard Warburton), alongside the show’s live band, Hope & Social, foster that sense in the room until resistance is futile. One of the best set pieces is built around the shared memories of people in Stockton-on-Tees, surrounding The Globe ABC cinema and the night The Beatles played there, which was also the night JFK was assassinated. And while that memory is a political memory, and for many a tragedy, visitors to the Bring The Happy ‘shop’ in Stockton remember it as a happy moment, because it was shared with hundreds of others thronging the high street. Warburton shouts out all their written and numbered memories, occasionally repeating the refrain, “…and the High Street roared!” to a exhilaratingly fast, folky tune by Hope & Social.
Maybe it’s naïve airbrushing to fail to acknowledge the political weight of measuring happiness and ‘mapping’ memory – or maybe it is a conscious decision from Invisible Flock to take joy, compassion and pride at face value, as pure emotions. If the latter is the case, and the aim of Bring The Happy is to bring the happy, then they made the right choice.
It’s an emotional night – to specify a time and place when you were happy is to admit that you are no longer at that time or in that place – and a number of the memories that Invisible Flock choose to repeat are bittersweet, rather than purely joyful. There are some moments where I felt they slightly overdo a wistful tone of voice, or try a little too hard to make a tale heart-wrenching or heart-warming, but I can’t fault them for sheer energy and effort all round. The show is full of sparklers and balloons and kazoos; 11% of the memories they’ve collected so far involve being pissed or high, and at one point they fill the room with haze and strobe light, pump out rave music and dance themselves ragged while the audience wave glowsticks. Another set piece uses a wartime dancehall memory to get everyone up from their tables, waltzing to Hope & Social’s music. It brought me close to tears.
Bring The Happy makes you want to feel more alive, to share in the community of humans that helped create it. That’s a good reason to go and see it.
Bring The Happy played at The Albany until 13 September. For more information, see The Albany website.