Happy as Larry

Shaun Parker & Company, Seymour Centre, Sydney, September 11

I FIRST saw Happy as Larry at the Sydney Festival in 2010 and reviewed it for The Australian. I liked it very much then, with a slight caveat, and liked it very much again yesterday. It’s been tweaked a little to advantage, if I recall correctly, although the music of co-composers Nick Wales and Bree van Reyk is played at an ear-piercing level, not to advantage. Perhaps it was an anomaly because this was a matinee and the theatre was full of school students, who seem to have an extremely high tolerance level for noise. As I failed to damage my hearing during my long ago youth, I did find this aspect a bit testing.

Shaun Parker & Company's Happy as Larry
Shaun Parker & Company’s Happy as Larry

The piece itself and the performance of it are terrifically engaging. Choreographer and director Shaun Parker set out to explore the nature of happiness through different personality types and via a highly eclectic range of movement. There are acrobatics, ballet, basketball twirling, roller-skating, breakdance and general fooling around. The mix is enchanting. Whether it’s possible to exactly pinpoint the nine difference personality types proposed is another matter, but the use of them obviously gave Parker and the dancers a fruitful jumping off point.

Adam Gardnir’s design plays a hugely active part in Happy as Larry. It ends with a canopy of balloons – sweetness and melancholy mixed – that hover over the action of this fast-moving 75-minute piece. As the audience comes into the theatre a man – Timothy Ohl – is drawing with chalk on a huge rectangular block that, as I wrote in 2010, “will spin, be clambered over, danced around, hung on to, jumped from and written on”. The explosion of delight from the teenagers as Ohl drew a light switch, then appeared to control the lights by pressing it, was a delight to me. The magic of the theatre, done so simply. So there’s a container-load of happiness right there.

Yesterday, as in 2010, I felt Happy as Larry didn’t really lead to any conclusions, other than perhaps to suggest it is so elusive as to be impossible.  I also felt it was, again, “full of the unexpected and virtuosic”. These performers are very, very special.

Happy as Larry continues at the Seymour Centre until September 14.

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