Walking under a graffiti tunnel, searching for the entrance to The Vault Festival, I really had no idea what to expect. The two handed musical comedy, We Can Make You Happy, is created and performed by Alice Keedwell and Harry Blake. This show is sure to shake off the grumpy Londoner in all of us.
When we were finally ushered to the Crescent theatre space, we descended into a room vomiting bright colours, adorned with unicorns and rainbows. Alice greeted us with her “positive thought” bucket, whilst Harry played euphoric music on his keyboard that was skirted with colourful gnomes. I had no idea where this was going, but was totally up for it. Luckily, the dynamic duo hit the nail on the head for this comical convention.
The story was set up almost like a children’s TV show (for adults). Each segment was short and sweet. Alice spouted out words and songs of over the top happiness. Her candy floss joy was punctured with Harry’s deadpan, witty skepticism. Both actors were able to show off their musical talent, grabbing various instruments and even having a go at tap dancing. This again was made all the more hilarious by the contrast of Alice’s keen exuberance and Harry’s lanky, deadpan awkwardness.
Alice’s songs were essentially distilled Oprah quotes. Telling us to live in the moment, pay it forward, compliment ourselves (even noting to one gentleman in the audience that nobody could embrace his penis like himself!) Harry countered this by acknowledging that encouragement and compliments probably won’t bring back a destroyed rain forest nor will positive thinking revive a corpse. He certainly had a somewhat Tim Minchin feel to him, spouting satirical lyrics that expressed an exhaustive, fatalist outlook on the world. It was the perfect bleak balance to Alice’s high of happiness. This all comes to a head, of course, when Alice is reminded of something in her life that makes her sad. Her mission was to make the audience happy. With all of us sharing her sadness, she is heartbroken by the realisation that she has failed in her objective. Downtrodden and blue, she gives up. But fear not: our Nietzsche loving, clarinetist, Harry comes to the rescue. He actually cracks a smile and expresses his genuine feelings of friendship towards Alice, warming the audience’s heart once again.
The set design and props supported the silliness of the show. Jennifer Fletcher’s choreography and Valentina Ceschi’s direction tapped into and brought to life the childlike pace of this psychedelic world. As is the case with most shows at The Vault Festival, this one has plenty of audience interaction even involving the entire audience to circle on stage and sing. It’s uncomfortable – in a good way. The only shame was we couldn’t see the words on the projection over everyone’s head, but it is easy to forgive the minor technical flaws.
Whether or not they can make you happy depends on your definition of happiness. Harry informs us that happiness is a social construction meant to reinforce capitalist motives. So err….. I don’t know. But I can genuinely say, it was hard not to love this little piece. If you’re feeling blue, you’ll have no regrets watching this endearing, twosome.
Reviewed by Ruthie Luff
We Can Make You Happy is playing at the Vault Festival until 8 March 2015. Click here for more information and to book tickets.