Lisa is not happy. In fact, Lisa is criminally unhappy.

Following a series of patriarchal and discriminatory events, Lisa finds herself unable to “take a joke” any longer and reacts with uncharacteristic violence. Set in a near-future society in which the Feminist “pendulum has swung too far”, being banished to Smile Club is the result of Lisa’s misdemeanour, and the subsequent attempts to ‘rehabilitate’ her.

In a concrete bunker-like complex, Lisa finds herself subjected to a brutal form of conversion therapy where both she and other women who refuse to toe the line are exposed to the insidious niceties of Smile Club, where interminable re-education is provided by tutor Positive Paula, who is hiding her own secret.

Andrea Heaton’s ability to shift effortlessly between several characters is remarkable, and her portrayal of Paula, the sadistic, smiling assassin is particularly convincing. Paula is complicit with the Government’s new patriarchal demands and is determined to convince her students that being a subservient woman is best. Infractions such as swearing, anger or a questioning attitude are met with swift and vicious removal from Smile Club to the remedial group for more intensive treatment.

Interspersed with Ed Heaton and Adam Foley’s frequent ‘Big Brother’ style audio-visual prompts, the student-inmates are encouraged to smile, smile, smile. We are drawn into an oppressive, zero-tolerance machine which the cold and claustrophobic set design magnifies.

Heaton and her co-writer, Adam Z. Robinson explore the line between societal politeness and the kind of pussy-bowed, high-heeled subservience some men (and other women) still expect– and the reaction against that.

Smile Club raises questions for me about the people I encounter at work, on my commute, at home as well as my own behaviour and responses. As Lisa tells her story, she addresses the audience directly and asks of us all, “Are you the resistance?”

Well, are you?

Reviewer: Anne Ward

Reviewed: 7th March 2020

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★