by Laura Kressly
Bette and Alex first meet as young teenagers in the early-00s on the kids’ online gaming platform, Club Penguin. As they grow up, they move to MySpace and Neopets, then Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. As much as older generations are quick to criticise young people being terminally online, the anonymity of these platforms allow them to safely be their authentic selves. In Alex’s case, he’s a closeted trans guy living as a lesbian. Bette, also trans, appears to be a gay boy. As their relationship develops and they navigate their transitions, the pressures of cisnormativity cause tension that risks the collapse of their long-term, online friendship.
Playwright Tabby Lamb, who excels at writing queer friendships, has deftly created two detailed characters with distinct journeys both in real life and online. Though they parallel each other, Bette and Alex have very different timelines and personalities. This naturally creates conflict between them, and Lamb does not gloss over how deeply this conflict cuts nor how long they both take to heal. Despite the story unfolding almost entirely on the internet, we see how the pair’s online personas overlap and contrast with real life. However, some of the later dialogue around trans healthcare can tend towards didacticism, which jars amidst the emotional vulnerability between the two characters. Yet, this a generous move my Lamb that informs cis audience members just how difficult it is for trans people to access necessary provisions.
Trans actors Sam Crerar and Allie Daniel are Alex (later Alec) and Bette, who clearly bring their lived experience to the characters. There’s an ease to their portrayal of young trans kids not yet out, as well as the difficulties in transitioning and the euphoria of living their truth. This is great proof that casting actors whose demographics align with their characters is good practice that results in authentic storytelling. Their performances are complimented by giant, happy meal-esque boxes (designed by Ben Stones) that also serve as the backdrops to their digital lives, on which fantastic projections visually depict their lives online. The design and performances are wholly complementary and the overall effect is a sophisticated production with huge heart.
Happy Meal runs through 28 August.
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