Review By Lisa Lanzi
With a delicious, playful wing-like elbow and shoulder dab/flutter and a French accent, Andi Snelling bestows upon us her angel character called Lucky. Perched on roller skates, this angel flies to earth from Cloud 9 (“the French part”) to guide the heroine on her journey to wellness, acceptance, and greatness, IF death can be thwarted. Snelling is an accomplished artist who survived a gruesome bout of illness contracted from a single tick bite. Happy Go Wrong is both revelatory and celebratory as we enter into this telling of grief, struggle, and redemption, winning Best Theatre Award at the Adelaide Fringe, 2021.
Scenes pivot between the view of two characters: angelic Lucky and the personal journey of Snelling herself. In early scenes, Lucky is intimately connected with the audience, bantering and improvising as ideas and philosophies unfold with excellent comic timing and endearing character peccadilloes that produce much hilarity. Contrastingly, early scenes where we witness a mostly silent Snelling battling with obstacles and running relentlessly but unsuccessfully in forward motion, there is deep sense of struggle and helplessness. Massive piles of crumpled paper make for suffocating, distressing environments that must somehow be navigated. At times, to a certain extent, the performer is in control. Elsewhere the mass of paper is a crash pad, a barrier, a prison. As well as the brilliant visual impact here, the paper creates its own unsettling soundscape with its rasping, scraping, or rustling. As Snelling ‘disappears’ beneath the weight of her struggle, the angel pops up to artfully commentate on the possibilities of what might happen next; the two personas subtly but expertly realised.
The exceptional and enthralling physicality of this performer aligned with their remarkable stage presence is what makes this work shine. At times, the deeply personal revelations are difficult to hear and the work teeters close to the edge of self-indulgence. Fortunately the personal echoes, just enough, the suffering or obstacles any human might face in a lifetime and provokes empathy in the viewer. This artist is a strong disability advocate and Happy Go Wrong will resonate strongly with the disabled community. Marking the various stages of Snelling’s illness/recovery are a creative series of onstage costume changes, fascinating movement work, song, and spoken text, or sometimes a combination of these. Physically, the work draws on Bouffon, clowning, contemporary dance, mime, and more, with seamless and impressive results.
Just as captivating is Snelling’s vocal ability and facial manipulation so that a degree of grotesquery is included effectively. The writing also is a mix of humour, pathos, and deep philosophical musings juxtaposed with personal memories, or biting satire. This dedicated artist’s bio is a fascinating read, their passion taking them across the world to a variety of learning environments where excellence has obviously been attained.
Sound (Caleb Garfinkel) plays an important role in this work serving to establish atmosphere, and poignant but sadly un-credited songs feature in a few scenes. Scene changes are sometimes punctuated in blackout with recorded satirical versions of various authorities’ automated answering services, clearly a frustration all of us have experienced. Playful, sometimes grotesque object manipulation is a feature too, again showcasing Snelling’s sublime physical prowess. There is a powerful sense of theatrical completion in Happy Go Wrong both design- and story-wise as well as dramaturgically. Snelling describes her show as “a profound celebration of mortality” with a definite sense of elation and gratification emanating from the artist/creator and shared generously with the audience.
Snelling began this work while still gravely ill and tells of its 8 year genesis calling the whole both “magic and tragic”. This work is without doubt a physical theatre piece that should be seen by many and surely won’t be the last we see of this fine artist.