Smile. [Like You’re Happy] is a debut work written by Blue McElroy for Sparkle Sarcasm Productions who are part of New Celts, a consortium of students from Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University where McElroy completed this thesis production for the MFA playwriting course. It’s directed by Grace Baker at the [email protected] Hall.
Unlikely to produce many smiles or make you feel happy.
There seems to be a lot of work still left to be done in bringing this play to the point at which it is focussed and coherent. Primarily it deals with issues of mental health, in a world where people try to be true to themselves, yet are obsessed about their public image on social media. Kate (Robyn Reilly) has recently graduated and is in a relationship with Patrick (John Whyte) who encourages her to share her feelings and experiences online. He recognises that she is a novice in this area and offers the services of his somewhat nerdy brother Grem (Lex Joyce) in recording and posting her material. This might be straightforward, but into the melting pot is thrown the nagging voice of her mother (Jess Ferrier) who physically hovers around her as a form of alter ego, advising, criticising and generally getting in the way.
As if this were not enough, there is also the burning question of the relationship Kate has with Patrick. He might appear to have her best interests at heart, but as Whyte develops the character his unpleasant, self-centred, controlling and manipulative disposition comes increasingly to the fore. As the play progresses, what is going on between the two of them increasingly takes over as the main focus, reaching a climax when he goes to physically assault her. Apparently all of this is influenced by Blue having seen The Taming of the Shrew.
In addition there are several niggling aspects to the production. Whyte is tall and imposing but looks uncomfortable dressed throughout in a dark grey suit, in contrast to the informality of the others. Presumably this is to emphasise his success in the financial sector and superiority, but it gives more of the appearance that he has just returned from a funeral. Kate uses a ring lamp when making her recordings, but Reilly seems ill-at-ease with it. The numerous recordings she makes means her phone is constantly being attached to it and taken off with a great deal of fiddling around that becomes increasingly annoying and distracting. The largely shallow dialogue, which is not short on clichés, and the generally low-key performances simply cannot cope with so much distraction.
The potential is there to make a much sharper play out this material, but at the moment it is unlikely to produce many smiles or make you feel happy.