Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Happiness

Laurie Anderson
BITE:03 at the Barbican Theatre
(2003)

The BITE seasons continue to bring cultural icons from a variety of forms to London. In recent months, they have introduced the likes of Salman Rushdie, Pina Bausch, Ingmar Bergman and now Laurie Anderson.

She has a reputation for amazing multi-media productions but Happiness is stripped down to the lady, belying her years, a DJ-style sound system and some effective lighting.

The tales that Miss Anderson relates, with her sensual voice, to her own electronically-powered musical accompaniment, are akin to a series of memoirs of her life. Early on, she informs us of her ability to make up stories and on occasion, it seems as if some of these vignettes of American life may be at least stretching truth. Impressively, the claim that she wrote the entry on New York for Encyclopaedia Britannica is apparently true.

Much of the subject matter is coloured by post a 9/11 introspection that New Yorkers seem prone to. Already this year, Spike Lee has written 25 Hours and the stage is beginning to see a series of plays that have been affected by this terrifying event. Having identified the silence that greeted televised images of the World Trade Center carnage, Miss Anderson presents her own moving oral depiction using her keyboard, body, voice and skinny electric violin.

The stories that she tells are quirkily humorous and together build a strange vision of life in America. They vary from a few days in an angry Amish community that refuses to acknowledge recent technological advances (i.e. the last 450 years) to a spell working under the scary Peng and Anna in McDonalds. Everything is bittersweet in Miss Anderson's vision, even Happiness itself is something that you can sue for the loss of in the USA.

The metaphorical style and wide reach often take her insightful tales beyond a resemblance to Bill Bryson or Michael Moore and towards some deeper meaning. This is a rare chance to see and hear a legend in her own lifetime.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher