Joygernaut (Andy Craven-Griffiths, Attenborough Arts Centre, Leicester, 11 October 2018)

review by Sally Jack

Joy – what is it good for? Most would likely agree the answer is ‘quite a lot’, and as we wade our way through the negativity of the news, where is the joy in life?

Joygernaut aims to recalibrate our joy compass by re-connecting with kindness, both giving and receiving. Poet Andy Craven-Griffiths spent 12 months researching, gathering words and acts of kindness to create a one-man, one-hour (and a bit) exploration of our individual, and society’s, response to this undervalued concept. 

Entering the Main Hall of Attenborough Arts, you can feel ripples of audience-participation-fear: jokes written on A4 paper placed on random chairs, chairs in a horseshoe formation with a flip chart as a central point. Have we stumbled into a weekly ‘we’re so wacky here’ sales meeting?

As it turns out, it’s all fine as Andy asks us to write down our best insult word in our biggest writing, then hold it up for all to see. A cathartic experience, and some impressively creative compound words are noted. A picture of a house was also requested, which again was a nicely diverting exercise.

Joygernaut features an eventful week in the life of My Name which includes a competition with a work colleague for a new role combined with an awkward boxing bout with his boss, trying to get back with an ex-girlfriend, and negotiating life’s many other competitive situations. Stressful and exhausting, events spiral out of control leading to a reassessment.

Craven-Griffiths is a skilled performer and storyteller, dynamic and engaging throughout. The space is used well, performance pace is just right, and day and scene changes are marked with effective lighting design. Props and devices are clever: a sketchpad for the young boy neighbour, a bar complete with pints drawn on the flip chart. Audience participation is also used to good effect with a handful of individuals used briefly as characters, and whilst this story is very much contemporary, the charisma of Andy’s performance keeps the diverse audience on side and engaged.

Through colourful and contemporary language and phrasing (by this I mean colloquialisms and imagery, not swearing), Andy has some great turns of phrase:

power makes a man of you

an old smell over a wrong smell

a visitor in my own world

closing the barn door after the horse is in the glue factory

My Name makes the mistake of believing our intrinsic value is based on how much we earn, what car we drive and how we are perceived by others, rather than looking out for one another. His exchanges with his young neighbour are touching, and there is something of an echo of Nick Hornby’s About a Boy, namely an adult at last growing up thanks to their interaction with a much younger and seemingly less mature person – looking at the world through different eyes.

I think it was a coincidence that this performance came a day after World Mental Health Day, however, it is relevant always. Statistics surrounding high levels of suicides, particularly amongst men, are mentioned during the performance, and serve as a reminder about the importance of not suffering in silence, and of having an honest conversation. Listening. Joy and kindness lead on from this, and as advocated by the experts, they are all good for our mental health. 

Endings can be tricky and as the show comes to a conclusion, this final segment seems a good five minutes too long; by this point we know where the story is heading and, compared to the ambiguity and the ‘things left unsaid’ being one of the strong points of the play, this comes across as a bit too tidy and over-explained.  This could also be a subject which lapses into trite, preachy sentimentality – it doesn’t thankfully, reflecting the strength of the writing.  A rousing finish, of which we are all a part, sends us out into the night with renewed positivity, and certainly in my case, a chance to reassess and recalibrate my own compass. 

PS I’m not aware there are currently other performances planned in the near future, but worth keeping an eye through the usual channels, as detailed at the foot of the Joygernaut website (and including interesting guest blogs from writers such as Inua Ellams and Vanessa Kisuule). 

Image by Sara Teresa