Friday 19 May 2017

Happy Days At War - Theatre Review

What: Happy Days At War
When: 18 - 21 May 2017
Where: Northcote Town Hall
Written by: Leah Milburn-Clark
Directed and Performed by: Leah Milburn-Clark and Jay Peardon
Choreographed by: Alexander Perrozzi
Designed by: Nicola Stratman

Leah Milburn-Clark
Germany under Hitler was a tough time for anyone not pure blood Aryan, but we usually tend to only connect the persecution to the Jewish community. The truth is that Hitler wanted to cleanse society of any 'other' and the disabled fell squarely into that categorgy for him. Happy Days At War, which is playing at Northcote Town Hall this week, explores how persecution looked from the perspective of a blind woman.

Staged with an exquisite attention to detail in all aspects, Happy Days At War is a joy to watch even as your soul shrinks in despair at how easy it is to be a good person and do evil. It is easy to think of Hitler as evil, but it is a lot harder to understand the whole German community doing evil. This play explores the creeping darkness as it engulfs even the happiest of people.

Singed in sepia tones, this new tale has a timelessness which looks backward even as it gazes straight at us asking the same questions - is different bad? why are we afraid of imperfection? how do we treat those around us who need our help? Do we understand everyone is actually the same - loving, laughing, happy, sad, screaming, and in pain?

In fact, the most powerful and poignant aspect of Happy Days At War is how crippled and broken the fully abled M has to become to function in the dictatorship he finds himself a part of. None of it is of his choosing but, as the saying goes, 'if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.' This hits home with the force of a sledge hammer as it seeps into the idyllic relationship of M and F. As M teaches F the colours of the rainbow the world around them gets darker and darker - so beautifully mirrored in the costuming.

Everyone on the creative team is WAAPA trained and the synergy of their creative paradigm shines through. Milburn-Clark protrays blindness with great understanding and attention to detail. She also carefully establishes the blindness within the misconceptions of the sighted before slowly and gracefully lapsing into a truer representation so that the audience find themselves understanding not the disability, but the level of ability which accompanies sensory disabilities. This only makes the circumstances she falls into even more horrific as we have stopped seeing F as blind, and only come to see the woman she is.

Peardon's portrayal of M is a masterpiece as well. In him we see that aspect of ourselves we like to shy away from. He must face the questions of life one by one without necessarily realising (or not wanting to acknowledge) the consequences that may occur. Is he in love? Will he get married? Does he need a job? What are his choices? Does he fit in? Can he offer protection? What will happen to him? How does he fix it?

We can't hate the man because we would do the same thing...we are doing the same things, making the same choices. The real question for us, the audience, is do we hate what he (they) did?  It is easy to say yes in the abstraction of time, especially if we tell ourselves those were different people and different times. What Happy Days At War forces us to confront is the sameness of them and then with us and now. Are we any different? No. We are all the same and we are all making the same choices and we will have the same outcomes if we don't pay attention, if we close our eyes.

In  the play F is blind, but perhaps she is the only one who is really seeing clearly. M is sighted. His blindness is an act of choice and therefore the consequences are his to own.

4 stars

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