Theatre Review: Ginger Johnson’s Happy Place, Pleasance Dome (Venue 23), Edinburgh

To go by the show’s title and the bright, childlike colour scheme of its poster, you’d be excused for thinking Ginger Johnson’s Happy Place might be a carefree, feelgood romp of a drag show rather than the surreal, unsettling and deceptively moving exploration of toxic anxiety under late capitalism that it actually is.

4

****

It’s also very funny, imaginative and entertaining.

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Hard, certainly, to think of another show that combines handmade fuzzy puppets and Disney parodies with crying in public and fixating on mortality – let alone one that sensitively mines those things for singalongs and laughs.

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As a drag act, Johnson is boisterous and loveable, all curves and quick comebacks.

But this evening something seems awry: as we hear her intro and welcome her on stage, we also seem to see a video feed of her collapsing backstage.

The show, we discover, locates us in her happy place – the zone she retreats to when the world, with its rising precarity, violence and sea levels, gets too much – and we get to join her for a little retreat.

What follows is a kind of multimedia variety hour of larks on the brink of the abyss, taking in selections from a grotesque mailbag, hilariously animated exchanges with obnoxious men and avalanches of meaningless trophies.

In many ways, this isn’t an easy watch.

Johnson stages various kinds of anxiety with real power, playing imaginatively and disconcertingly with the tension between apparently innocent forms and deeply troubling feelings.

Childlike drawings take on a weird menace and automated phone calls become a circle of hell.

Nor are there any cosy reassurances to put these real and common struggles to bed.

But there’s wit, humour and heart to spare, and a kind of comfort unpacking and sharing such troubles before girding again to face the world.

Until 26 August. Tomorrow 9:40pm.

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