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Theatre Review: I Want To Be Happy

The term ‘guinea pig’ has become synonymous with animal experimentation and indeed the term often gets applied humans who are used by others. But how often do we think of those cute fluffy little little animals and the suffering they have gone through over the years in laboratories across the world.

Carl Bland’s new play I Want To Be Happy will definitely make you think about that. It’s a simple story about Binka (Jennifer Ludlam), who lives in a cage in a lab somewhere. She never sees the sun and is fed pellets and water, but hers is a mostly lonely life. She is tended to by Paul (Joel Tobeck), but this is on the surface a perfunctory relationship. He has a job to do, and seemingly doesn’t have much regard for her as he knows her future is bleak.

Yet, he talks to her as though she were an old confidante. He shares his fears, hopes, and marital issues with her.

Binka talks back, but of course, neither can understand the other. She wants her freedom, and at times sadly recalls her youth when she had a family and was free. 

This is a very cleverly written and staged show. A mixture of live action and puppetry works exceedingly well, and a dual set design creates the illusion of two different size perspectives. So we can see Binka in her cage as human sized and at the same time see Paul interacting with a small cage on stage. 

Both Ludlam and Tobeck play to their strengths. Tobeck is almost nonchalant, creating a character that hides his pain behind smiles and aloofness, occasionally breaking down, only to put the facade back up. Underneath all this though we get a strong sense of the pain this man is feeling. 

Ludlam as the anthropomorphised guinea pig creates a powerfully emotional and compelling character who is at times angry, sad, and bitingly funny. She becomes the hero of the story and if you had qualms about vivisection before, Binka’s story will definitely make you root for the animals.

Despite the subject matter, this is a delightful play full of humour and deep emotion. It makes us think about how we humans treat animals and also that the relationships we can have with animals can be just as meaningful as the ones we have with humans. 

Press play to listen to an interview with actor Joel Tobeck:

I WANT TO BE HAPPY 

Auckland 18th August – 2 September 2023

Wellington 6th – 30th September 2023

Bookings and information 

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