Review: Gary Mitchell's new play Smiley provides 'genuinely entertaining evening of theatre'

Jane Hardy

SMILEY, the title of Gary Mitchell’s new play premiered at the Lyric Theatre tonight, is not the adjective you would associate with the guy who has documented the tough world of Loyalism. And received death threats for his efforts.

Yet although Mitchell is known for plays like Trust, with their anger and uncut violence, he has also co-written a couple of satirical Christmas shows for the Lyric with titles like Forget Turkey (We’re going to Phuket).

What is so clever about Smiley is that Mitchell here combines both strands in a gloriously bleak, Tarantino-esque comedy about football and Northern Ireland’s current state of play.

In the stands, or stalls, we lapped up the tale of our small man, brilliantly played by Michael Codron, who falls foul of Tara, the local godmother (chilling Jo Donnelly). She continues the great paramilitary traditions via scams that involve buying up people’s debts. She has Smiley by the overdraft and once you add in some personal history, including the fact his sexy ex-wife has a special relationship with her husband, the whole thing sizzles.

It’s dark and funny and Mitchell uses quick scene changes and a split stage to great effect. At the start, we see society here divided into the thuggish torture of poor Smiley, a benign Elvis impersonator, Aaron, and glorious tranny girlfriend/boyfriend, Cameron. And in the middle, young Charlie, a girl footie player with talent who’s looking after her sick mother and wants a better life.

Yep, it’s all pretty symbolic but done with great deftness. And as always in Mitchell’s work, there are great lines. Football brings out the worst in people. Well yes, and there was a big laugh for the moment Tara’s henchman Malcolm, whom we warm to when he reveals he’s illiterate, says that gays have it made because their parades are never stopped.

It’s a genuinely entertaining evening of theatre, directed cleverly by Conall Morrison.

:: Smiley runs until July 2. For details and booking visit

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