Whether you are an ardent supporter of one of the teams currently battling it out in Euro 2016, or you have seen the headlines reporting the good, and unfortunately bad, of the tournament, you can’t have missed the fact that football fever has really taken hold. I am not a football fan but even I am feeling mighty proud, not only by how well Northern Ireland are performing on the pitch but also how well the fans are behaving off it.
With such an emphasis on the ‘beautiful game’, it seemed the perfect time to check out Smiley, a crime caper about a group of Belfast misfits who decide to form a 5-a-side team and try to win a lucrative football tournament, but are instead forced to rob the organisers by ex-paramilitaries.
The play, which runs until 2 July at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast, was penned by highly acclaimed, Belfast born, Gary Mitchell. The lead character of Smiley is played to perfection by Michael Condron. If you are a Game of Thrones fan you might recognise him as Bowen Marsh, however, I recognised him from when he stole the show during The 39 Steps which wasstaged at the Lyric earlier this year. Condron clearly has a well honed comedic skill which he used to wonderful effect in Smiley.
The play opens with Smiley trying to joke his way out of a corner as he gets a hiding at the behest of paramilitary boss Tara. However, when he realises that this is one situation he can’t joke his way out of, he proposes a plan to win £25,000 in a football tournament to cover his debt, which Tara bought over unbeknownst to him.
With Tara giving his plan the green light, on the condition her henchman Marholm plays in the tournament, it’s up to Smiley to secure the rest of his team: his son Tommy, professional footballer turned Elvis impersonator Aaron and his backing singer/ girlfriend Cameron, and Charlie, who was making a name for herself in ladies football before giving it up to look after her sick mother.
When the team struggle to put their differences behind them, Tara doesn’t believe they have it in them to win the tournament. To ensure she gets the payout she was promised, she orders Smiley and Malcolm to rob the prize money. What follows is a game of double dealing; you aren’t sure what the score will be once the final whistle blows.
Smiley is a fast paced play with razor sharp dialogue. Mitchell has penned some cracking one liners which are delivered superbly by the engaging cast. I particularly enjoyed the chemistry between the actors. Smiley and his ex wife Elaine, played wonderfully by Kerri Quinn, sizzle as they trade barbed insults whilst Cameron and Aaron’s relationship is tender yet also packs a comedic punch. I also loved that although this is a play with football at its heart, Mitchell does not shy away from peppering it with bold and feisty female characters. Charlie is a ballsy creation who more than holds her own on the pitch whilst the scene that sees Elaine go head to head with Tara, crackles with energy. Smiley is a thoroughly entertaining escapade that had me captivated from start to finish; the superb material combined with the exceptional cast ensured this was a match made in heaven.
Smiley runs until 2 July 2016. For more information: