A place like happiness by Debs Gatenby
Oh that elusive search for happiness. It’s a slippery little trickster is happiness. So much so, the pores of our society seep with endless self-help books guiding our boundless search for contentment. Needless to say, as a lover of a good TED talk, this solo show by Debs Gatenby, as part of Queer Contact Festival, was right up my street. It’s all about Gatenby’s search for happiness, and if you believe the blurb, failing. The makings of a downbeat reflection on the trauma of life as we know it, right?
But nay, what laid before me was a lovely, strangely uplifting and very funny performance. The first show I’ve seen in a long time where I thought ‘Oooh I right ruddy enjoyed that’.
From the moment Gatenby tiptoed on stage wearing a bright yellow poncho, clutching a fishing net and bucket, she had us. A fabulous physical performer and an expert at the throwaway comment, Gatenby is just funny. But though the laughter was pretty much constant, what Gatenby delivered was heartfelt. It felt genuine as she guided us through her quirky journey to enlightenment with delightful storytelling.
She had planned to spend a year travelling the world and documenting her own self-help guide. It didn’t quite work out like that. The act of saying and doing are quite different things. She may not have fulfilled her desire to travel far and wide, but it seems she learnt a lot.
Occupying a sparse stage, a lone Gatenby was joined by her trusty sidekick Sandra, the laptop. Sandra controlled the badly shot video diaries of Gatenby’s adventures - it was all part of the charm. Her first stop was the Isle of Eigg where she desperately tried to immerse herself in the rural community. Despite a fear of nature. Particularly cows. And chickens. Struggling to integrate into the community, it was here that Gatenby started to wonder about the importance of connection to happiness. Does feeling connected to a community add to our sense of belonging and therefore happiness?
Then, determined to commit further to her plight, Gatenby described how she was offered the opportunity to travel to Provincetown to perform. A few months went by after her initial noncommittal before she realised she had to get off the sofa and just do it. It was here that the theme of connection seemed to pervade, yet again. She immediately connected with the audience at the festival and found herself bathed in compliments for her quirky performance. It seems it took travelling all that way to Provincetown for Gatenby to realise, that perhaps she should start believing in herself. That self-appreciation thing is a pretty big part of happiness it appears.
It was these realisations that made this show so endearing. Though it was filled with seriously funny stuff, Gatenby masterfully harnessed the pathos of her inner demons alongside the laughter, her vulnerability laid bare. Full of self-deprecation, she dotted her storytelling with asides and gentle self-heckling which merely served to draw the audience into her world more.
This was a fabulous antidote to a wet, dreary weekday evening. If there is a well-deserved tour of “A Place Called Happiness”, I would highly recommend it. Especially if you like a good belly laugh.
By Hayley Jane Sims for Canal St Online