‘Smiley’ was sassy.
Premiering in 2013 in the tiny Sala Flyhard Theatre in Barcelona, ‘Smiley’ is a two-man Spanish play that has warmed the hearts of audiences from Europe to the Americas. Continuing this quest now in Australia, the production is making its explosive debut right here in Brisbane.
The story tells of a Japanese legend; from the day they are born, people who are destined to be together are connected by a red thread. No matter how much they might resist, this bond is unbreakable. Enter ‘Smiley’s’ two protagonists: Latin, gym-chiselled bartender Álex (Sergio Ulloa Torres) and the less gym-enthused, romantic movie enthusiast Bruno (Matt Young) and you have an instant connection. With abundant differences and antagonistic personalities, the pair find a bond that – despite their own egos, pressures and protocols – cannot be broken.
Adapted and directed by Liam Burke, who rehearsed with the two actors via Zoom for three months during lockdown, this show is not only a passion project for the return of theatre but a relevant story that needs to be told.
Maintaining the flow of the show is crucial, especially with a small cast, and Burke’s skilful direction ensures that over the course of the hour, ‘Smiley’ never loses its momentum. Be it through the actors’ physicality or the blocking choices, there was always some form of movement and the audience was taken on a journey with every intentional gesture. In contrast, this made the moments of stillness so much more powerful and heightened the emotional heart of the scenes. Burke truly captured the essence of the story and made the show feel full and complete.
Torres and Young were champagne casting. Both strong actors with exceptional comic timing, the two never missed a beat in the sass of the script and were consistently captivating to watch.
As Álex, Torres brought a cheeky charm, with an underlying earnest tone. Portraying the younger and more attractive character, there were opportunities to slip into unwanted clichés, something which Torres never did. His performance was fresh and intriguing.
Young’s portrayal of Bruno was heartfelt and endearing. When sparring with Torres on stage, Young always had a twinkle in his eye and, in more emotional scenes, perfectly harnessed the relatability of the character, leaving audiences transfixed. Young also made seamless transitions through vocal intonations and physicality when portraying the string of Álex’s wannabe Grindr suitors.
Set and costumes by Fiona Keegan were subtle but well utilised to enrich the performance. The small box theatre was decked out stylishly with flamboyant touches to represent the two men’s apartments as well as the bar. Nods to its setting in Barcelona were made clear with voguish silhouettes of the Sagrada Familia on the wall.
Whilst the sass and wit were consistent and hilarious, the crux of ‘Smiley’ came down to the very real emotional heart and themes that will resonate with all audience members: attachment fears, unexplained attraction and how to form real connections in the age of Grindr, where the superficial is all that seems to matter. ‘Smiley’ shows how this can manifest differently in two very opposing characters.
‘Smiley’ is a relevant piece of theatre that finds the humour among the trepidation when forming new connections and falling in love. Torres and Young sparkle on stage and the entire production team should be highly commended for this beautiful show that will leave audiences’ hearts warmed and smiling.
‘Smiley’ plays until Sunday, 29 September 2020 at BackDock Arts and is sponsored by Brisbane Pride. For tickets and more information, visit the Smiley Australia Facebook Page.