It’s all about raves for Dave. They are what he lives for, what he loves, what he does – or at least… did, once playing to a crowd of 10,000 before Michael Howard’s Criminal Justice Act caused the effective death of rave culture in the mid-1990s. Since then, he’s been hiding out in an average-at-best advertising job, surrounded by insufferable hip young things who keep out-performing him. But Dave sniffs out an opportunity with this hard-working, fun-lacking crowd and comes out of the shadows to party again.
This is fascinating material, not least because it connects generations in an original way. The double storyline skips back and forth between the 1990s and the present day; yet while the generational differences are keenly felt, it is the gap between those who settle and those who dream that really dominates the play. Many young people will recognise the lackadaisical attitude of Dave’s colleagues in themselves or their peers: those who work hard at careers they don't love or feel excited about. Playwright Oli Forsyth holds up a mirror to today’s youth culture which while not entirely flattering, is startlingly honest and very funny. And we all know someone like Dave, one of those lost types who get stuck in jobs they have no enthusiasm for just to pay the bills, while their ambitions hang in tatters. Placing Dave in the showy environment of Generation Y highlights the difference in attitudes, and provokes questions about the meaning of success.
The cast is strong across the board, most especially Andy McLeod who plays Dave and Lucy Hagan-Walker who plays Steph, Dave’s closest ally in the advertising agency. The platonic nature of their relationship is compelling – and it allows Dave’s love affair with rave to remain at the forefront of the narrative. Under Sam Carrack’s direction, the friendship feels deep, loving and complex without falling back on romantic clichés to push the play forward. It is refreshing to see this kind of friendship portrayed so thoughtfully onstage.
Oli Forsyth is gaining a reputation as an ambitious writer with two Edinburgh Fringesuccesses already under his belt, and Happy Dave is no exception. The structure is playful with monologues, spoken word performances and, at one point, a hilarious news programme parody mixed in with the dialogue. As a slam-winning poet himself, it’s no surprise to see Forsyth bringing these elements into his plays. They are used to great effect, connecting and setting scenes, and creating tension. The rhythm of the poetry parallels the beat of the rave music adding something very special to the overall soundscape of the play. Hagan-Walker, Helen Coles and Kiell Smith-Bynoe perform these tricky passages with gusto.
A second storyline is also mixed in, recounting Dave’s experiences as a young DJ. Although it is nice enough to see Dave’s roots and I can see where the temptation to add these scenes comes from, this isn’t quite as strong as the main storyline and slows the pace of the overall performance slightly.
As you’d expect from a play about rave culture, the music is spot-on. With a custom-made soundtrack by The Flashback Project and sound design by Tom Clarke and Diarmaid Browne, it’s clear nothing has been overlooked when it comes to the sound of this play. The effort plays off. It gives the show a clear musical identity and stirs up the audience in the same way it stirs up Dave’s crew, allowing us to take a little bit of their giddiness for ourselves. The thrill of partying is captured perfectly – enough to send even the most miserable audience member dancing into the night.
By exploring the disillusionment of millenials in comparison to the free-spiritedness of Generation X, Happy Dave encourages us to enjoy life and make time for whatever makes us happy. Whether that is music, art, sport – we all need something outside the humdrum of the 9-to-5 to be excited about and to make us feel alive. This is an ambitious production, a life-affirming piece of theatre about stepping outside the box for a moment and (yeah, why not?) onto the dance floor.