Off-Peak - The Bristol Old Vic

Off-Peak - The Bristol Old Vic

Theatre company Play The Goat have triumphed in their debut residency at the Bristol Old Vic, with this poignant riff on the millennial infatuation with happiness. George Descaillaux has curated a sparkling narrative, that features satire of painful relevance, and moments of levity and clarity with soliloquies reflecting on the deeper clockwork of quotidian happiness.

The play maintained its buoyancy and levity despite its zesty sardonicism as each cynicism was delivered with honesty (a by-product of the team’s chemistry) and a genuine concern for the current modern consciousness. Why are we obsessed with the achievement of perpetual happiness?

The audience is quickly plunged into a, quite literally, brassy world of rose tinted vivacity, with some of the cast playing various types of trombones and ‘Felix’, the group with the modest aim of achieving global happiness, in their trademark clashing get-up of exclusively pink and red items of apparel. Set design and movement is minimal but powerful, a toy train weaved ceremoniously through the stage, meaning any lacking budget was more than compensated for by comedic agility. Choreography and Chloe Thurlow’s Music and Sound are equally as slick, and hilariously emulate the hypnotic grind of the pre-train boarding ritual.

Ingeniously, the London commute is used to examine a broad cross section of society. The dazzlingly mediocre behaviour and etiquette of each character of the banal, head-in-hand familiarity of an extended train journey is executed with flare by the entire cast. The obnoxious droning of the ‘quirky’ private school girl definitely notasking daddy for more money, the snivelling of a funeral go-er and the open-mouth sandwich eater, are all eventually shut down by you and I, the immaculately behaved, normal commuter. We watch with satisfaction as the only sane man on the train with beautifully superficial British politeness and a searing frustration behind his eyes, asks each member to respect the nature of a public space. 

The abysmal ennui of the train is intermittently disrupted by the frenzy of a cell of ‘Felix’ members on the train, the tenaciously ecstatic Bethany (Esther Myers-Insole) and Dani (Georgina Graham-Williams) plotting to make it a happy train. As instruments are thrust into the hands of our carriage, we see the re-blossoming of an old romance, the back-benching of British sarcasm (only initially disturbing) and the propensity for a bunch of strangers to really get a long. Descaillaux’s writing reaches a didactic climax when Felix’s group leader Dani’s enthusiasm is exposed as dangerously obsessed with global happiness, and a funeral goer emotionally discredits the entire operation having missed the final goodbye to his mother. We cannot all be happy, all the time.

A Ukulele inspired rekindling of love, is a moment of vulnerability in the script, although of course not void of a gag, it rendered the audience somewhat stiller and more connected to the idea of the individual on the Bristol to Paddington romp. And of course, the stand-out crowd pleaser was somewhat regrettably the moment of standard toilet humour. 

By sympathising to our natural scepticism of ‘Happiness’ Play The Goat deliver an arresting and provocative final message. An anthem for the struggle of the early 20s and the silent chaos of your quarter-life crisis this is absolutely worth your time, you will leave feeling refreshed, understood and ultimately more at peace with the inevitable ebb and flow of life’s troughs and peaks, and maybe even more tolerant the charming lady opposite you on the train who has decided to remove both her shoes, and socks on the hottest day of the year.

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FOUR STARS

Milly Randall