April 05

Very Happy Children with Bright and Wonderful Futures

Please note: for the purpose of this review, I saw the Banksia Cast.

At the time of posting this review, this season has completed its run. However you can find out more about Jopukas future productions here.

Please note: I attended this production as a full paying ticket holder in order to relay a complete audience member experience.

Australian’s are aware the impact of COVID-19 cut into a growing political debate surrounding the fires of 2019/20. 2020 was like that. Just when you felt you had a grip on an opinion, the elusive status quo rendered one’s position irrelevant. In being forced to go home and sit still we found change imposing itself with some force. Climate change looked more like a disease and less like a disaster. We were confronted with a planet earth acting in predicable way’s we did not expect.

This planet earth plays a narrative role in the remarkable play Very Happy Children with Bright Wonderful Futures. Performed with great verve and joyful skill by Ella McCray, our planet (and her friend the moon – a charming and delightfully understated Khy Elliot) are neither victim nor silent observer of human behavior. Rather they move among the young people driven to act, working to make sense of their own ever-changing selves. The earth and its moon are engaged participants in the drive toward understanding climate change and resolving political stalemates that hold inactivity in place. No one, not even Greta holds the answers we’re all looking for. But together we can find answers if only we work with a single goal in mind.

For writer (and Jopuka producer) Josh Maxwell, this appears to be case. Inspired by the way the youth around him were inspired by Greta Thunberg, and standing united on political territory to demand a transformation in policy, he wrote a play that rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the 2019/20 bushfires in Australia. This is an enormous play, filled with the mature-beyond-their-years cries of thousands of young people who want a world to live in beyond the next ten years. For Joshua Maxwell, the issues lie not along party lines, but along leadership lines. The gift of Greta is her ability to bring everyone together in a world where divide and conquer on social media seems to be the driving force.

To the older generations (Gen Y, Gen X, Boomers etc) Greta’s greatest skill appears to be in standing up against, and indeed out trolling the trolls. The now infamous slap down from Donald Trump – ‘Greta is a very happy girl with a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see’  – was reversed as he left the white house – Greta tweeted that ‘Donald was a very happy old man with a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see,’ as he took his last step out of the white house. It is this speed of wit that impresses the older folk. However, for Josh Maxwell, who has his adults speak to the kids through muffled voice overs from off stage, those who command control of policy still don’t get it.

In Very Happy Children with Bright and Wonderful Futures, Josh Maxwell (with help from Janie Hornsby) prefers to examine the influence of Greta Thunberg on the generation he works with all the time – The up-and-coming iGen’s (Centennials or GenZ). Cleverly, he calls forth her image complete with plaits and a yellow raincoat and transposes it to an Australian youth torn between activism and very real-world events. While some anger is expressed at the adults who do nothing, much of the play displays the confusion and distress teenagers experience as they tumble into an awareness: the prior generations have let them down.

We watch Izzy (wonderfully portrayed by Eloise Hunt) a happy young teenager called forth by circumstances into very adult roles in the absence of a proper adult role model. As she is caught up in the complex results of inaction around climate change her friend Leila (a fiery and strong Amani Halak) is driven to act. Young men trying to navigate their way through puberty are left stranded by overwhelming circumstance. Hunter (Joseph Galea) and Jace (Thomas Schramm) give up wonderful performances illuminating that odd place where a boy turns into a young man. Their satellite, the lively and happy Annie (Tahlia Nott) becomes our tragic hero, our youth born to adulthood through the horrors of what is all too real. Tahlia embodies today’s youth. A joyful teenage transition cut short by a too short time frame.

A strong ensemble with Abby Muddle as The Spark and Hannah Duggan, Sky Gleeson, Mia Drengenberg, Ashlee Grant and Charlotte Gardiner as the embers keep the pace moving the story vibrant and the message on point. Beautiful original music by Amy Flannery and Kani Lukuta draws our soul to the production and gives us wings as we watch.

As with all Jopuka performances, a strong group of creatives call forth the fine performances. In this case Callen Purcell directs a tight and thrilling show supported by assistant director Ethan Dale. Lighting designer Nik Lyons and stage manager Evelyn Luck round out the powerhouse team.

Undoubtedly a call to action on the issue of climate change, Very happy Children stands apart because of Josh Maxwells approach and the unique flavor of this generations real problems.  This separates this generation from what has gone before. We saw revolution called for when the Baby Boomers marched to end war and demanded flower power be a revolution of sorts. We saw the next generation; Gen X rile against the Boomers when they saw what the Boomers became – Reaganites and Thatcherites. Punk was the refusal of Gen X to accept what the Boomers had become. Gen Xers remain angry, and now talk of being squashed between the numbers, but when you look at the great actors of the X generation (Jeff Bezos, Emmanuel Macron, etc) they seem to have strayed a long way from the punk principles that generation stood for.

The difference with this generation is this; the world as we know it will change irrevocably to the point it can’t sustain life.  If the Boomers were about stopping the violence of war and the Gen Xers about stopping the violence of capitalism, the Gen y / Gen Z cry about stopping the violence to the planet has less to do with good moral action as opposed to sheer survival.

For Josh Maxwell, this cry is embodied in his cast and the way that activism is portrayed. The activism of his team of talented youth does not come from a principle or a moral position. It comes from lifesaving. Greta’s cry and the overwhelmingly clear message of this play boil down to “If you had no intention of saving the planet, why did you have children?” Previous generations can’t escape the damning awareness that we birthed babies into a life of running to the sea in boats to escape a fire while they watch those on the shore burn. In this next generation we are meeting, face to face, the future adults who are going to be burdened with the task of managing the floods, pandemics, horrific fires and raging destruction of a world we destroyed as fast as we had kids to inhabit it.

And their first cry is to damn all those who went before them.

Not that the good people of Jopuka intend the adult audience to leave feeling berated or abused. We are asked nothing more than to see this problem from the perspective of these kids. But the inevitable combination of activism and very real daily fear is something we see larger than those who saw their friends die in war zones, or tossed out with a pile of garbage because their work ethic wasn’t up to scratch. The fear of this generation is that there will be no place to run to in order to hide, and that the destruction is getting worse and worse with the fresh cry of each teen.