Trans playwright Tabby Lamb has created a relatable, representative coming-of-age story in their latest play, Happy Meal. Granted, not every audience member will identify as transgender and thus see themselves on-stage in the form of teens Alec (Sam Crerar) and Bette (Allie Daniel), but in its framing in the worlds of MSN, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and more, most will warm to the websites which defined their childhood in some way, shape or form. ‘Warm’ being an apt word to describe this gentle, endearing story.
It’s rather ironic, though, considering the pair meet on Club Penguin – the now-defunct online messaging and gaming platform set in a frozen world with penguin avatars. Nevertheless, the digital environment is a safe space for the two characters to exist openly and truthfully, to build confidence to tackle the outside world which remains incredibly hostile towards transgender people.
At first, Bette is the self-assertive, cocky champion of Club Penguin, which makes her eventual confessional to a more chilled Alec about how she feels for him (though, notably, ‘love’ is never once mentioned – even in the play’s heart-warming conclusion, the pair only hug) all the more impactful.
The use of social media in Happy Meal – first and foremost – conveys the beauty of digital safe spaces for minority and marginalised communities. Yet it also serves as a fascinating set and video display (from Ben Stones and Daniel Denton respectively) as the duo converse in their own light-up, speech bubble boxes. It allows for beautiful, rich monologues and similes, too, to which Lamb is no stranger. Her previous play Since U Been Gone is one powerful exposition on grief, and again, they have created another story in which everything comes together perfectly.
Though like a Happy Meal itself, tiny and miniature in nature, the play could be so much bigger, and I pray after its tour around the UK post-Fringe, it expands. We never really have a monologue from Alec/Crerar (Bette is more of a protagonist, though understandably so). As mentioned previously, we don’t really see any romance for a show branded a rom-com, as the play’s conclusion feels a tad abrupt and rushed.
All of this is not to undermine Happy Meal’s accomplishments, however. It boxes up the joy of being transgender and online spaces in the most charming way, and I’m lovin’ it.
Happy Meal is now playing at the Traverse Theatre, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2022, until 28 August.
It will then play at Theatre Royal York from 31 August to 3 September, Theatre Royal Plymouth from 7-10 September, Oxford Playhouse from 13-17 September and the Belgrade Theatre from 21-24 September.
Production Images: Lottie Amor.