‘Football… is about hope, loyalty and disappointment’
A surprising and fun night of theatre, Smurf in Wanderland began life as a joke and it was only after several people encouraged David Williams to write it, and more importantly when director Lee Lewis promised to stage the show, that Williams began writing in earnest. The play charts the writer’s journey into enemy territory: a Sydney FC supporter who braves the sea of red and black to attend matches at Parramatta, home turf of the Western Sydney Wanderers, which is no longer home to Williams.
Much of the appeal of Smurf in Wanderland is that ‘hope, loyalty and disappointment’ can be applied to most aspects of life. We wouldn’t persevere if not for hope, especially when sometimes faced with crushing disappointments along the way. Plus we all love and crave our tribes, they give our lives meaning and support. We find the tribe in different areas: in our family, at work, the theatre, and at the sports arena. For some it is a combination of all of the above. Also, Williams’ adages about football can be applied to any team, no matter what sport, particularly a team that frequently disappoints (yes Vancouver Canucks, the regular thrashings that the FC took reminded me of you). Few people out there have absolutely no experience of barracking for a team, even if we don’t follow sports regularly.
Smurf in Wanderland reveals tribalism at its best and worst, and most of the worst the media had a large hand in stirring up. The Sydney Telegraph was regularly publishing incendiary and inaccurate depictions of the footy crowd for their own agenda, which ultimately did more harm than good. Williams mused over what the newspaper hoped to achieve with this kind of shock journalism, as the articles only served to heighten the animosities in the East/West divide with knee-jerk reactions.
Much of the action in Smurf is set during Season 9 of the A-league, from October 2013 to May 2014. If you ever doubted that having an entire season of football described to you could be entertaining, then you are not alone, yet it is compelling. David Williams is a natural storyteller whose great humour and personal asides inform and entertain, he delivers in a wonderfully understated manner, yet the audience get swept away with the action as described by Williams and begin caring how it will end. The outstanding sound design by James Brown punctuates the story and adds suspense, yet never overwhelms the monologue by Williams. The mini-bleachers that acts as a stage for the drama is perfect in its simplicity, if a little lonely looking at times.
The hero worship in Smurf is funny and understandable, even then PM Julia Gillard got onboard in 2012 to help seduce Italian Alessandro Del Piero to Sydney to play for Eastern Suburbs flailing FC. To the surprise of many, the talented Del Piero took up the offer and re-located to Sydney to play for FC for two crucial seasons, when the Western Sydney Wanderers were on the rise with their own ring-in: Shinji Ono. The addition of Del Piero had the FC football club and fans excited and optimistic, but I won’t detail the results, a plot spoiler would be unforgivable.
The intersection where art and sport meet is about to get very crowded, as Williams’ play sheds more light on human nature, tribal antipathies and cultural mores than it does on football, all within a feel-good story. End result for Smurf? This has all the hallmarks of a great sleeper hit.
Smurf in Wanderland is on at Riverside Parramatta until 29 April, then the show moves to the Griffin Theatre’s SBW Stables Theatre from 2 – 13 May. For more information and tickets see either: https://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/smurf-in-wanderland/ or http://www.griffintheatre.com.au/whats-on/smurf-in-wanderland/
Featuring: David Williams
Crew: Lee Lewis (director), Charles Davis (set and costume design), Luiz Pampolha (lighting design), James Brown (sound design and composer), Kate Worsley (dramaturg), Nick Atkins (Creative Futures participant), Kirsty Walker (stage manager) and Damion Holling (production manager).