As the great philosopher of Knotty Ash once said (or, rather, sang), to his Diddymen: “happiness, happiness, (is) the greatest gift that I possess”; continuing on this theme to proclaim that the world is a wonderful place if you have “happiness in your soul”.
I suspect that Robert Clark is a tad young to have been influenced by Ken Dodd but he appears to have taken up where the master of the “tickling stick” left off. The madcap music hall routines of the Liverpudlian comic with the unruly hair and ungainly teeth had happiness as a goal but Clark’s latest show rashly promises it as an outcome.
Clark has spent two years on his “happiness project”, working with a psychoanalyst amongst others to investigate the causes and manifestations of happiness but – in this show, at least – there is nothing new to this science. I suspect that most of us could have come up with the same potential recipe for happiness after a 20-minute workshop.
The lyrics of Ken Dodd’s eponymous song (released in 1964) defined happiness as ‘an ocean tide’; ‘a sunset fading on a mountain side’; ‘a big old heaven full of stars above’; and being ‘in the arms of the one I love’. Oddly enough, for a guy who joked during the court proceedings of his tax evasion prosecution (for which he was famously acquitted) that he had £300,000 in banknotes stashed in suitcases, Dodd’s song didn’t include money as a cause of happiness. Clark has no such qualms, actually giving cash away during the performance, a highlight of which is the collective anticipation of the entire audience sharing in a £250K scratch card win. Our numbers didn’t come up, which could have provoked mass unhappiness, but it would have been fascinating to understand what Plan B would have been had the card been a winner!
Taking time to talk to your loved ones on the ‘phone, cooking up a nice meal (via a personal recipe provided in a golden envelope) and manufacturing a (surprisingly realistic) standing ovation for one of the four performers – Martha Pasakopoulou – were amongst the means to an end of fulfilling Clark’s promise. Less obvious – and perhaps more Diddy-Doddy-like were gold spangled shorts and a realisation that “yellow” is – in fact – quite plausible as the colour of happiness.
If the truth be told, Clark’s promise of happiness floundered on all of these counts – even the golden, spangly shorts – as far as this audience member was concerned. Other more personal attempts to reach my soul via a cup of tea, a £5 note or a shot of whisky didn’t work either, largely because these opportunities didn’t come the way of seat B16, hence making me slightly more of a grumpy old git than I was when the show started! The intrusive audience interaction – trying to get me to stand up and dance or fill in questionnaires – made the grouchiness even worse.
But – and it’s a big but – Clark delivered on the promise. I left distinctly happier than I had arrived. And the reason lies not in their material but in the consistent and honest effort of four very talented and diverse performers. It might have been the seriously over-the-top show dance that did it, or perhaps more likely the earnestness of their combined efforts to amuse. There was a welcome return to the stage for Kip Johnson (last seen in Luca Silvestrini’s LOL, and here giving the acronym a “Laugh out Loud” definition with lots of love). Stephen Moynihan and Janina Rajakangas completed Clark’s excellent quartet of highly polished and individual artists.
All of the performers proved themselves skilfully adept at the use of spoken text, words flowing like movement, and I loved the soft, entirely asexual, gentleness of an early scene in which they all kiss one-another, over-and-over again in sequence. I felt their happiness!
So, despite all the best efforts to resist the hypnotic effect of the yellow and gold on my inner contentment, I left The Place with a smiley face and a “how-tickled-I-am” feeling, looking for a ‘phone, a well-stocked kitchen or just someone to kiss. The promise of happiness fulfilled.