Smile Club - A Warning for Tomorrow? - Red Ladder Theatre Company

Red Ladder Theatre Company


Smile Club – A Warning for Tomorrow?

Meet Lisa, a Smile Club attendee. Lisa’s been through it all and she now knows – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that nobody likes a girl who makes a fuss; nobody likes a girl who can’t take a joke. She knows too, that life is simpler when you let things go. And she certainly has. All of it.

Join Lisa as she presents the perks and rewards of being a Smile Club Member. Hear about her descent into dejection, rage, and bloody violence, before her remarkable transformation into the smiley, well-adjusted human you see before you today.

Smile Club, from writer/performer Andrea Heaton and writer Adam Z. Robinson, takes place in a dystopian world, in which a government drive exists to tame and prune unruly women deemed unable to fit into society. Like most classic dystopias, Smile Club is set in the future, but rarely are the classics about anything other than the time in which they were written. 1984 by Orwell, as published in 1949, was as much a reflection on the nationalism, censorship and surveillance of the time as it was a warning for the future, during the onset of the cold war. So how much of Lisa’s experience of the Smile Club is present in the lives of her writers, and how much is this show about the present state of things?

Andrea Heaton, Smile Club writer and performer.

Andrea tells us that she loves finding inspiration for story telling in both truth and fiction, “the ambiguity so often found in retelling of real life events is fascinating. We spent a long time crafting the universe of Smile Club, drawing on the dystopian excellence of The Handmaid’s Tale and Black Mirror to develop the history, the social context, and the ways in which it might differ from our own world”. Adam reflects that the original concept drew from two things, “firstly, a story about a friend-of-a-friend of Andrea’s who had been stopped at a barrier in a train station until she gave the man a smile. Secondly, a particularly chilling image Andrea had found on the internet of a woman with a cartoon smile strapped to her face. The accompanying story was about ‘smile clinics’; places somewhere in Europe in the 1950s where husbands could send their wives if they were ‘struggling to get along’ in society. It turned out to be a fake story – but the idea and image really resonated.” 

“The best stories leave you feeling changed”

In developing the show, Andrea and Adam ran a survey, asking people about their experiences of being told to smile by strangers. Most people who responded were women, and most of the people telling them to smile were men. They were struck by the way these experiences made people feel much more self-conscious. Adam explains, “we wanted to explore, in a fictional universe, what that – and what so many of these micro-aggressions – mean and say about our society, our gender politics and where it may lead to in the near-future. We hope that Smile Club will be an interesting contribution to the conversation”.

The show also finds resonance amidst contemporary conversations around the #MeToo movement, the gender pay-gap, and the proliferation of sexual harassment and everyday sexism. On what this show can do in this setting, Andrea goes on, “I want audiences to connect with the human struggle of the characters and experience something that resonates beyond their evening in the theatre, creates conversations and sparks stories and debate. The best stories leave you feeling changed, even in some small way, be that personal political or a little of both; I hope Smile Club can do that”. 

Smile Club will tour nationally and locally from March. See details and book to see via our show page.