“I didn’t know whether to masturbate or to vomit,” a bemused Chris Bailey declares during Made In China’s We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie?) at Battersea Arts Centre, and here I find myself nodding in agreement. Bailey has just described the moment where you are thinking one thought, maybe it’s sexy or tragic, and another unrelated thought comes into your mind, say happy or depressed, and the two combine into one sexy/depressed thought. It’s within these binary opposites that are crunched together that I find myself agreeing, “Yes, I’ve had that feeling. I’m feeling it now.”
The truth is, leaving Made In China’s piece I was left with two opposing thoughts that, no matter how much I tried to acknowledge that they were both present and attempted to will them into one, they just wouldn’t go. I left feeling somewhat conflicted and confused, with thoughts fighting for control and no real outcome, so much so that I am almost indifferent. We see Jessica Latowicki and Bailey with their trying hard to be happy faces staring out into the audience. It doesn’t matter that we don’t believe in their happiness, or that they themselves don’t believe in it either. What matters is that we are all (at least this is what I can surmise) smiling falsely when there is so much pain, anger, hurt and torment in the world. We leave our crusts bread while children in Africa starve, and it isn’t enough that TV adverts and posters show us this, what matters is our unprecedented denial of such things. We are all indifferent, unmoved by human existence.
At times We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie?) feels like a classic example of graduates from a contemporary theatre-making course showing us the tricks they learnt. Thankfully, these obvious devices (think downing of drinks, and covering oneself in flour) have a much deeper suggestion than that presented at face value, and this is where I feel conflicted by the work. It’s clearly a device, but it’s less clear that hidden underneath is a subtle suggestion that Made In China know what they are doing. They are aware of the simplicity of dancing and drinking, of telling lies and epic stories, but it is within the delivery of the subtle message that glistens the real gem of their work. Will audiences realise this? I worry the answer is no, and this is partly because I’m not sure I completely did myself.
I am the first to hold my hands up and admit that I don’t always understand a theatre piece, but I almost feel that with We Hope You’re Happy… I should understand and know what it did for and to me. Yet I feel indifferent. There are titillating moments enriched with humour and sorrow, sitting next to moments of bizarre dancing and burping that offer little. Tim Cowbury’s writing scales epic heights listing disasters and diseases in continuous flowing words ,whilst juxtaposing the simplistic stories of childhood and the need for companionship. Latowicki and Bailey’s American/Canadian accents soothe the aches in your body in their charming duologues, whilst the gyrating of hips and pelvises cause seductive sensations to ripple through you. At times sexy, at other times witty and true, Latowicki and Bailey’s relationship oozes life into Cowbury’s text.
Whilst there is a side of me that secretly fell in love during We Hope You’re Happy… there is an undeniable desire to dismiss this and Made In China’s work as simply fumbling post-dramatic live art performance work, whatever that is. It sits in a place that discomforts me, and I’m unsure why, especially as its previous production of Stationary Excess struck a notable cord with me. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you want to experience a show that bounds in one direction before turning and sprinting in the opposite, never settling for a moment then We Hope You’re Happy… will work for you. If you’re looking for a piece with depth and clarity, then perhaps you’d best look elsewhere.
Perhaps I’m just severely depressed, just as both Latowicki and Bailey declare during We Hope You’re Happy… caught in the despair of the world around us. Made In China has caught the attention of suitable backers such as the Battersea Arts Centre and the National Theatre Studio, and it is clear from the work that it has a way of creating theatre that doesn’t quite sit in the realms of live art nor of devised work, rather sitting in the cracks of unknown. I’d keep an eye on them for future work.
We Hope You’re Happy (Why Would We Like?) is playing at Battersea Arts Centre until 24 March. For more information and tickets see the Battersea Arts Centre website.