“We hope that you’re happy,” we are told repeatedly in Made in China’s 50-minute touring show that originated at the BAC. As a rule, any piece of theatre that gives out popcorn before the start should make me very happy indeed. Instead, by the end of We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie?), a piece as excessive as its title, I’m irritated and bored. The show, somewhere on the border of self-aware and self-indulgent, is the sort of ironic comment on Western, privileged apathy that just leaves you feeling apathetic and wishing you’d seen something more interesting.
Tim Cowbury’s text is about a kind of “survivor’s guilt” at living in a peaceful and prosperous society whilst the news is full of natural disasters and human atrocities; we have “no right to be sad” when we don’t know the horror of earthquakes, hunger, or genocide. This, coupled with the pressure to feel happy, and the notion that happiness is the most desirable state, fuels the angst of the two performers, Jessica Latowicki and Chris Bailey. With an icebox full of Budweisers and Fab ice lollies, Jess and Chris spend the night in with us whilst everybody else is “out getting wasted.” Their duologue, full of “memories” of the tragedies of the last hundred years and reminiscences of their own childhoods, are performed with charm and subtle comic timing. They feed off each other well, creating a convincingly destructive friendship and two suitably self-absorbed characters.
Despite this, it’s far from the “explosive theatre” we’re promised, unless that refers to the flour and condiments that the two explode over themselves, for no obvious reason. Their delivery is interspersed with a repeated dance sequence that’s performed faster each time, which is equally sigh-inducing and does little to advance the ideas of the script. Are these tiresome performance tropes part of the show’s self-awareness? Very possibly, but that doesn’t make them any more palatable.
Perhaps I just didn’t get it, but unfortunately the lack of clarity in its intentions makes this show seem at best a work in progress, at worst pretentious. I should say that some of the people I saw it with found it very profound, and the polarising nature of this piece, I suppose, is testament to the BAC and other venue programmers’ risk-taking. It’s good to see work like this given a platform, but despite its occasional audience interaction, Made in China seem to forget its duty to the spectator.
We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie?) played at the Warwick Arts Centre. For more shows and information, please see the Warwick Arts Centre website.