Rachel Donovan stars in Told by an Idiot’s Get Happy, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the production, first commissioned by the Barbican.
Told by an Idiot returns once again for a winter residency, inviting everyone of any age (babies to great-grandparents!) to enter the artfully controlled chaos of Get Happy, a madcap, mischievous show featuring acrobatics, dance, live music and physical comedy. Taking its inspirations from sources as diverse as Charlie Chaplin, Dr Seuss and Pina Bausch, the show bursts with life, takes many unexpected turns and involves plenty of interaction and engagement.
The Get Happy cast includes Katy Ellis, Kyll Thomas-Cole, Nick Haverson and Rachel Donovan. It is directed by Paul Hunter, designed by Sophia Clist with sound design from Adrienne Quartly and lighting design by Tom Snell.
Get Happy is returning for its tenth anniversary, what can you tell us about the show?
GET HAPPY is a joyful, entertaining, oftentimes ridiculous show, suitable for all ages, from babes-in-arms upwards. Everyone is welcome! It’s essentially a series of back-to-back sketches. Our director, Paul Hunter, first came up with the idea for the show, when he was observing the way his toddler played – the ease with which he free-flowed from being fully immersed in one game, before completely dropping it, and then investing in another scenario whole-heartedly, without so much as a second glance.
We’ve tried to do that with GET HAPPY – there’s fun to be had in working with a non-linear-narrative. We’ve made no attempt to link the sketches. The only rule in the rehearsal room while devising was – If it’s entertaining, then it stays in the show! Which feels very liberating.
You’ve been a part of the show previously, how has it evolved over time?
I performed in the second iteration of the show, at the Barbican, in 2015. Since then, the GET HAPPY family has grown – with numerous cast changes over the years. So the skillset of every new performer has ensured a sort of natural evolution. Each re-mount still draws upon the same eclectic source material.
For example, we’ve a nod to the choreography style of Pina Bausch, an excerpt from Dr Seuss’ GO DOG GO and an idea inspired by a scene from the Charlie Chaplin movie, THE KID. I’d say that, while the heart of the show remains the same, we’ve cherry-picked our favourite moments for the 2023 update.
And how does it feel to be bringing it back to the Barbican where it was first performed?
It feels like a homecoming! GET HAPPY has travelled to Beijing, Luxembourg, Stoke-on-Trent. It’s even been performed in an open-air Basket Ball court in Woolwich, during Lockdown, so to bring it back to the Barbican this Christmas is an exciting prospect. Also, on a personal note, since I last performed the show, I’ve become a mum. So I’m thrilled that my two kids, who are 3 and 7, get to experience the show.
Why do you think this unique brand of silliness is so loved by audiences?
It’s a world where anything goes, so there’s a feeling of escapism in that. Both from an audience and a performer perspective. If you’ve seen Told By An Idiot’s work before, you’ll know that they could find the ‘funny bone’ even in the most serious of scenarios. There’s humour in the vulnerability of seeing an everyday person in a surreal situation, and if we can recognise true emotion amidst the absurdity, then it strikes a chord. Also, there’s no better feeling than a good old-fashioned belly laugh.
What have been some of the best audience reactions you’ve had over the years?
With this being a family show, children especially always have such brilliant reactions, they join in the dances, some sit quietly, captivated, taking it all in and others can’t contain themselves! All of the shows are relaxed, so there’s no pressure to sit still and silently, and there’s plenty of opportunities to interact. We’ve heard children asking their parents if they can get some ‘magic shoes’ after seeing that sketch which as of yet I don’t think are on the market (if you watch the show you’ll understand!) and the show finishes with a sketch that never fails to get a reaction out of everyone!
Also Get Happy was one of the first shows performed outdoors in between lockdowns when theatres were closed, and although I wasn’t part of that cast, I’ve heard a lot about it, and watched the documentary Told by an Idiot created about making theatre in a pandemic (Dedicated to Chaos). Joy was especially needed at that time and if there’s one thing Get Happy is, it’s joyful! Seeing families together, enjoying themselves, and offering the show in their local community was very special.
What’s the biggest challenge for you in bringing this artfully controlled chaos to life?
We’re dedicating this version of GET HAPPY to the memory of Stephen Harper. Steve was an associate artist with Told By An Idiot, and was responsible for devising a lot of the content of this show. Poignantly, and purely by coincidence, our rehearsals began on the 1 year anniversary of Steve’s passing.
He features heavily in all of the archive footage, which we’ve used as reference every day in rehearsals. His material still stands up to the ‘funny’ litmus test. So, although we’re breathing new life into these well-honed sketches and putting our own spin on things, if ever we find ourselves stuck, or the comic beats just aren’t landing, we know that if we look back at Steve’s performance, then he’ll provide us with the clues. It’s a testament to the kind of generous performer he was! It’s been simultaneously challenging and cathartic to watch Steve’s Clowning masterclass on repeat.
What would you say to anyone thinking of booking to see Get Happy?
Do it! We’d love to welcome you into our world and hopefully you’ll leave with a great big smile on your face. As the song says ‘Forget your troubles, come on Get Happy, We’re gonna chase all your cares away.’