Roots and Theatre Royal Plymouth in association with ETT and Oxford Playhouse York Theatre Royal
York Theatre Royal
I didn’t manage to squeeze in a trip to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, so I was thrilled when I learned that one of the festival’s most hyped shows—Happy Meal by Tabby Lamb, winner of a Fringe First—would be coming to York Theatre Royal as part of a short national tour.
Advertised as a “joyful trans rom-com for the MySpace generation”, this warm and engaging two-hander focuses on the online relationship which blossoms between two teenage misfits, Alex (Sam Crerar) and Bette (Allie Daniel). Both are transgender, but at first only Alex is comfortable enough to admit their identity.
During the course of the play, we get to watch the two protagonists’ relationship develop over a nine-year period, from initial nervousness to something genuinely profound and meaningful. This timespan not only allows Tabby Lamb to explore how online culture and public perceptions of trans people have changed over time, but also to indulge in a bit of Millennial nostalgia. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only audience member who enjoyed all the references to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Patrick Wolf.
Overall, I was very impressed by this small, but beautifully constructed play, which manages to tackle the subject of gender identity in a thoughtful yet playful and occasionally irreverent way. The isolation and discomfort that Bette endures speaks to the immense pressure that trans youths feel about coming out without seeming remotely didactic.
The device of having Alex and Bette communicate with each via social media—beginning with MySpace when they are still teenagers—could have been hokey in the wrong hands, but is ultimately handled very well. There is effective use of graphics and lighting to convey the different online spaces, and I particularly enjoyed the opening scene in which the two performers, dressed as penguins, compete in an Antarctic-themed game.
Sam Crerar and Allie Daniel are both excellent in their roles, capturing the mixture of vulnerability and cynicism one finds in many teenagers.
On a final note, I feel that the show’s director, Jamie Fletcher, is having a terrific year. Happy Meal—combined with a blistering production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (probably my favourite show of 2022 thus far)—proves that Fletcher is definitely a talent to watch.
Reviewer: James Ballands