Remember the days when you went to proper birthday parties? The kind where you walk away with one tenth of the pass the parcel, sickly sweet cake wrapped in lurid napkins and a party bag with toy cars and lollipops? Weren't they the days? Well, I am pleased to inform you that such retro delights are not dead and gone forever, thanks to the multi-talented, bespectacled wonder that is Amy Lamé, and her Unhappy Birthday.
Amy Lamé is, in my humble opinion, our best New Jersey export. Yes, that's right, even better than Snooki and her silicone lot put together. Not only has Lamé written for an inordinate amount of publications, ranging from the Independent to DIVA and everything in between, she also graced our fair isle with the Olivier-award winning collaborative (although I'm not sure anybody's all too sure what that means these days) named Duckie, and has endlessly entertained us with one-woman shows titled to titillate (see Cum Manifesto). But this year, Lamé turns her attention to her biggest obsession: Morrissey, he of silky baritone, gravity-defying quiff, and slightly warped views on the gravity of Norwegian massacres.
So it is apt that we begin milling about a foyer in Camden adorned with rare, beautiful black and white photographs of the man himself - a pleasant bonus to the evening's entertainment. After graciously accepting a party hat, party popper and 'rehydrated potato snack' from the lovely Amy, the audience is ushered into a darkened room, where we take our seats around a large, alter-like table. Feeling every inch the excitable five-year-old, Lamé begins with a Morissey-fuelled jolly round of pass the parcel. Unhappy Birthday simultaneously revolves around a selection of Morrissey numbers and the aforementioned parcel, which provides a prop for each new set piece. The structure is flawless, and not only keeps tensions high, and the audience utterly involved (if a little terrified), but keeps the show from drifting off into art-house obscurity. We are treated to such oddball delights as Moz-e-oke (Morrissey themed karaoke, a must for any Unhappy Birthday worth its salt), sanitary towel art work, and a mandatory prayer to Morrissey (not advisory for those opposed to idolatry, but bloody funny for everyone else).
Depressingly often, performance art hangs by a thread to its original intention, becoming self-involved and inaccessible. Luckily for Lamé, Unhappy Birthday dishes up just a couple of awkward, slightly disconnected moments, which can be difficult to decipher. The program runs a little long for a one woman show on one topic, and one obsessive topic only, and occasionally smacks of Arts-funded box ticking, but on the whole, Lamé's larger-than-life bubblegum-rock star demeanor keep the punters chortling, and party spirits high.
It is difficult to imagine anyone being able to dislike Lamé, and this is the real ace in her pack. She's the kind of woman you want to organize your Birthday, someone you're itching to get on your Facebook friends list, or have 'gin and red velvet' afternoon tea with. The great thing about Unhappy Birthday is that you leave nursing the feeling that you've done just that. It's not particularly high art, there's little talent involved (in the traditional sense of the word), but it is a fantastically entertaining, retro throwback of a knees up, and if you like your theatre raucous, ridiculous and insanely affable, Lamé is undoubtedly the girl for you.
Unhappy Birthday is at Camden People's Theatre.