Theatre review: Free Happiness, Basement Theatre

By Paul Simei-Barton

Stephen Bain and Nisha Madhan are the creators of Free Happiness.
Stephen Bain and Nisha Madhan are the creators of Free Happiness.

By allowing the audience to decide how much they will pay for the show, Free Happiness poses a challenge that doubles as an attractive, if somewhat risky, marketing ploy.

On entering the theatre you are given a full refund on the $20 ticket price in $1 coins. Over the course of the 90-minute performance there are opportunities to hand the money back. You can leave the theatre without paying a cent and by participating in various market opportunities it is possible to pocket a profit on the $20 investment.

The concept has the immediate effect of heightening audience involvement and blurs the boundary separating audience and performer.

The show's creators, Nisha Madhan and Stephen Bain, establish a casual vibe that sits somewhere between the hard sell of a dodgy marketing seminar and the ironic poise of a high concept art event.

Beginning with a survey on the kind of ethical conundrums raised in Kendrick Lamar's How Much a Dollar Cost, the audience are marshalled through a series of activities that keep the money circulating.

Some old-fashioned theatrical surprises help us visualise the impossibly large numbers thrown around in the financial news while an exposition on the futures market has the performers hilariously pitching future shows, enticing the audience to invest in promised events.

A more prosaic focus on the here-and-now comes with a breakdown of income and costs for the show which reveals the economics of avant-garde theatre is akin to standing on a corner with a begging bowl.

It would take a hard-hearted soul to begrudge these hard-working artists the $20 ticket price.

What: Free Happiness
Where: Basement Theatre to Aug 6.

- NZ Herald

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