Leeds Playhouse, Leeds – until Saturday 7 March 2020
Reviewed by Aimee Liddington
Welcome to Smile Club. We have been transported to a dystopian world in the future where there is a government initiative to train and mould disobedient women who are struggling to blend into society. We meet Lisa who is a Smile Club attendee. After an incident at a train station where she was stopped at a barrier until she gave the man a smile, Lisa finds herself being taught how life is much simpler if you just let things go. After all, no one likes a woman who can’t take a joke.
Co-written and performed by Andrea Heaton, Smile Club serves as a warning to us all about where we could find ourselves if we don’t address the troubles in today’s society. Although the play is set in the future, we are pushed to question how much of the necessity to suppress and control others exists in the world that we live in today. Should women really still feel the need to ‘sit down, be silent and look pretty’ or can we all co-exist without some people needing to dominate others?
Alternating between narrative and dialogue, Heaton commands the audience and is impressive in her change of body language and voice to show a change of character. Among these cleverly crafted characters is ‘Positive Paula’ who should really be renamed ‘Patronising Paula’ – we’ve all met someone like this and her overwhelmingly fake positivity provides laughter and anger for the audience simultaneously. Paula has passive aggressiveness down to a tee and her consistent reminders to ‘smile’ and ‘take a compliment’ are enough to drive anyone to the brink of insanity.
Heaton and co-writer Adam Z. Robinson have carefully formed this story using relatable real life events and characters mixed with terrifying fiction that feels not too far from reality. This production from Red Ladder Theatre Company provokes a conversation about human behaviour and interaction. In the time of the ‘#MeToo’ campaign, prolific cases of sexual harassment and the fight for gender equality in the workplace, this show has got potential to get tongues wagging.