Smart

Smart may seem innovative in putting Facebook and Tinder at the heart of a drama, but this cannot compensate for boring and one-dimensional characters and a tedious plot. Writer and director Duncan Joseph has plenty of good ideas, but almost all of them are poorly executed.

Projecting Grace and Steve’s activities on their phones and iPads onto a screen, with text conversation read in faintly mechanical voices through the speakers, proves a great way of bringing technology onto the stage

The play has plenty of potential. Grace (Ruth Dennis) is happily married to Steve (Greg Lindsay-Smith) and settled into a mundane family life, but after getting Tinder (as a joke) her conversations with a young stranger Zak (Mark Kazakos) become fantasies of sexual freedom. Projecting Grace and Steve’s activities on their phones and iPads onto a screen, with text conversation read in faintly mechanical voices through the speakers, proves a great way of bringing technology onto the stage. Similarly, the sexualised dances between Grace and Zak during the text conversations aim to poetically show how the seemingly harmless messaging inspires Grace’s fantasies; if only the choreography had been a little better.

Joseph has the makings of a great play, but some shoddy characterisation and predictable plotting makes the piece a disappointment. None of the characters are at all likeable, or even interesting. Lindsay-Smith as Steve spends most of his time grumpily storming off at the first sign of a serious conversation with his wife, making it hard to care about his imminent cuckoldry. This might still work if Grace’s other lover had some sort of character, but instead Zak is the archetypal ‘Tinder creep’, personality set stubbornly to slimy. Once established that none of the characters were worth investing in, the action quickly becomes tiresome: endless coy conversations between Grace and Zak, punctuated with some grumpy suspicion from Steve or some moral admonishment from Grace’s insufferable sister (Eve Silver).

Lindsay-Smith and Dennis both emote half-heartedly, though in their defence the writing doesn’t give them much to work with. Dennis as Grace’s sister Immy also struggles to make a badly written character believable, and Kazakos never portrays anything other than a persistent desire to have sex. It was as if all the characters sleepwalk through the affair, not caring either way if marriages are destroyed or husbands betrayed.

Smart dances around the bleakness of having Facebook define one’s identity and having most of our interactions confined to our mobiles, but it can’t help but be tedious and uninvolving. In better hands it could have been a great premise; without a rounded character in site, disappointment is guaranteed.

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The Blurb

Thirtysomething online dating can be tragicomic, especially when you shouldn't even be on Tinder. Lost and mired in tedium, Grace obsessively seeks instant gratification and a new sense of self online. Is it betrayal if it is only virtual? Smart is inspired by the photo series The Death of Conversation by Babycakes Romero. It explores our detachment from the physical world as we connect more and more with our virtual selves disconnecting with those around us. One of a pair of multimedia plays from Empty Vessel, examining the invasion of the virtual into the real.

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