Happy Meal at the Traverse Theatre – Edinburgh Fringe review
Tabby Lamb's new show runs at the Traverse
It's always nice to arrive on the Fringe and be greeted by a waving Penguin, blowing kisses while wearing a yellow scarf. And that introduction to Tabby Lamb's new comedy about friendship and identity, sums up the spirit of this generous and warm-hearted play.
The penguin is part of the primitive noughties arcade game played by Al (Sam Crerar) and Bette (Allie Daniel) who meet online and become friends. Al is the first to come out as trans, honestly describing their feelings; Bette, who is also trans, hides her emotions behind wisecracks and knowing innuendo, using the freedom the online world offers to adopt different personae but never tackling her problems IRL – in real life.
It's a lovely, smart piece, written with great honesty and full of terrific dialogue that is both nostalgic for a world where you could be obsessed with Buffy and Neighbours and Nadia from Big Brother, but also frank about negotiating the confusions and pain of lives in transition. It's sharply funny, but also instinctively truthful.
The friends fall apart before they come back together; nothing is simple for them. The online world is both a refuge, a tool and an impediment to them finding happiness. Yet there's a wonderful moment of resolution, when Bette suddenly suggests that maybe gender – like time - doesn't actually exist but revolves around the expectations placed upon it. "I was born in exactly the right body. You were born in exactly the right body. These journeys we've taken were the journeys we were meant to take in order to find ourselves and maybe even each other…".
This gentle wisdom is presented in a beautifully modulated production, directed by Jamie Fletcher with a careful grasp on its changing moods. With a set of two booths which show little thought bubbles, designed by Ben Stones and animated by Daniel Denton's videos, it cleverly makes the distinction between the online and the real world, letting feelings spill out between the two.
Both the performances are similarly subtle. Crerar carefully reveals how Al's apparent courage is bought at considerable cost, showing how frail their bravado about being with the lads is, revealing the true cost of Bette's refusal to support them in real life. As Bette, Daniel is both wonderfully funny as she navigates the online metaverse in which she feels at home, adapting to its newest trends, and also touchingly frail as she struggles towards an acceptance of her own body and its meaning.
There are countless plays about trans issues about to be unveiled at the Festival, but I doubt there will be a better one than this – dancing penguin and all.