Happy Meal is immediately impressive in its setup – two large cube ‘tents’ are on stage with animated graphics projected onto them. Meanwhile, a penguin welcomes us in with waves and cute dance moves. Unexpectedly then, perhaps, this is a coming-of-age play about acceptance, secrecy, and the trans community.
As the penguin is joined by a mate and they begin a ski-jump competition, it becomes apparent what’s happening – we’re watching two people interact virtually, meeting in an online videogame. Thus begins a friendship that spans years. It’s a situation a lot of queer teenagers have been experiencing since long before social media as we know it today. As the play highlights, the online world can be a safe haven for youngsters who don’t feel they fit into the real world, especially when gaming avatars and digital profiles can create a comfortable new skin. As well as charting the universal notion of important and profound friendship, it’s also bringing us a new, rarer story: queer people coming out to one another, which might not always be as simple as it seems.
Full of noughties pop culture references that tickle – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Avril Lavigne, Sum 41, Britney Spears, and Windows XP – Happy Meal is both funny and moving, even if the occasional phrase feels just a little too contemporary. The exciting projection work is also fundamental, and helps tell the story by presenting us with text conversations, computer desktops, and instant messaging visuals, whooshing in and out with perfectly timed sound effects.
Actors Sam Crerar and Allie Daniel embody their characters perfectly – at times cheeky and confident, at others awkward and tentative. Daniel is especially talented in delivering hilarious one-liners and flippant quips. What they do, in the end, is effectively guide us through a believable relationship in its various emotive stages. Happy Meal is a success, telling a queer story of friendship through an original digital prism.