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Happy Hour review at Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh – ‘as pretentious and meaningless as it gets’

Silvia Gallerano and Stefano Cenci in Happy Hour at Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh. Photo: Molly Bloom Silvia Gallerano and Stefano Cenci in Happy Hour at Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh. Photo: Molly Bloom

You’ve got to laugh otherwise you’ll cry. Or in Cristian Ceresoli’s imagined dystopia, be seized in the dead of night by guards with attack jaguars on leashes and thrown into a drained aquarium. Be happy or die, that’s your choice. After an hour watching this tripe, you’ll be longing for a lie down with the presumably suffocated fish.

Happy Hour takes itself very seriously for a show about compulsory joy. Silvia Gallerano and Stefano Cenci are the rictus-grinning children of this horrible world, laughing cheerily at death, violence and borderline sexual assault. Enclosed in an Escher-style ring of rostra, they playfight and talk in affected squeaks like no children that have ever existed on this or any other planet.

The imagined landscape of darkly comedic nihilism has potential allegoric power, absurdist humour being traditionally an excellent medium to represent the very worst of humanity. The problem is that Happy Hour is so sure of its own brilliance that it forgot to include any wit. Simon Boberg’s direction is relentlessly heavy, every interaction between brother and sister loaded with wide-eyed stares and weighted gestures. It’s theatre with a capital T.

The Holocaust imagery is at best inappropriate and at worst distasteful. Gallerano and Cenci pause their cavorting to solemnly march towards the gas in a candy-coloured concentration camp. Ceresoli is clearly making a deep metaphorical statement here about totalitarianism and enforced plastic, unfeeling cheeriness. It’s a pity that as physical theatre goes, this is as pretentious and meaningless as it gets.

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Pretentious two-hander imagines a dystopia built on enforced happiness