Reviewer: Colm G Doran
The Lyric theatre presents Gary Mitchell’s crime comedy Smiley, a play that follows an unlikely group of misfits (including an impressive Elvis impersonator, a paramilitary member and a drag queen) who form a football team in an attempt to win the local league and the 25,000 quid that’s up for grabs. But of course, that’s only the beginning…
After an initial introduction by ‘The King’ (astutely captured by Gerard McCabe) the first scene takes place in the office of the villainess of the piece. Jo Donnelly gives a tour de force performance as the manipulative and money-grabbing Tara. Applying threats as if they were thumb-screws, she rages at the eponymous Smiley for beating her son in a poker game, shouting that her henchman Malcolm (or Blood, as he was known in ‘the old days’) is “going to take you outside and drill your balls to the nearest lamppost!” In order to worm his way out of this tight spot, Smiley comes up with an idea to settle his debts – winning the league. It is through the recruitment and preparation of the team that he hopes will succeed, that the rest of the play unfolds.
Mitchell’s writing is vibrant and witty; the humour is rarely wasted on a cheap gag, but is more often found at the end of a slow burning observation that gradually finds its way to a punchline. Elevating the writing to comedic heights are the stellar cast; Michael Condron succeeds in making an audience simultaneously laugh and feel pity towards the hapless Smiley, while James Doran shines as the ironically well-read and misunderstood thug Malcolm. Likewise Kerri Quinn as the brash Elaine and Tommy Wallace as the dream-a-minute Drag Queen, boast perfect comic timing in bullying the men in their lives into doing what they want.
Aside from the success of the cast and the writing, the piece itself is not without fault. The set changes are often messy and set to a jarring score of remixed music with an array of multi-coloured lights flashing to reveal stagehands, actors and props in transit across the stage. In terms of the plot, there are a few occasions when the series of plans that the group embark on to succeed in winning the money can prove to be a little disorienting – Mitchell occasionally seems to sacrifice a coherent story in his attempts to keep the humour sharp and the piece engaging.
While it is at moments inventive and undeniably humorous – one of the most striking features of the play is its volume. It is loud. Granted where football and the paramilitary are concerned quietness would not be one of the salient qualities thought of, but there are only a handful of moments in the entire evening where someone isn’t screaming, it’s just as well that Liam Doona’s design makes it appear that the characters are on a football pitch throughout.
Ultimately, Mitchell’s play is a humorous farce that perhaps overshoots the runway when it comes to twists and turns in the plot, but succeeds in delivering an entertaining evening to those who are willing to switch off the European Championship for one night and witness an altogether different footy experience.
Runs until 2 July 2016 | Image: the Lyric Theatre