Red Ladder theatre transport us to a world where facial expressions are both a weapon and survival tactic, taking Smile Club to the Bramall Rock Void where Leo Owen caught the show

IN a dystopian future where a government programme aims to subjugate women deemed dangerous to society and “help [them] step back in line”, Lisa recounts events that led to her being “enrolled” into Smile Club and how she survived the programme. In a cross-section of bunker, writer Andrea Heaton plays our protagonist in this challenging one-woman monologue, creating intrigue from the outset with references to a mysterious trial and sacking.

Heaton expertly plays multiple parts, utilising voice and body language to switch between characters who star in Lisa’s story. She plays Paula, the Smile Club Facilitator or “Pro-Smile Executive”, altering accent and volume before transforming into the keen to please Halle, various male victims acting as “sponsors” and outspoken Margaret who later disappears.

Those signed up to Smile Club reportedly “no longer feel the need to impose [their] discontent on other people”, are banned from using religious swear words and must “refrain from being corny”. Director Rod Dixon punctuates Heaton’s performance with deliberately mind-numbing muzak and Smile Club adverts, giving her a much-needed breather and creating darkly comic moments with educational modules like “The Pay Gap Fallacy”, “Learning to take a compliment” and “Biology: Men Versus Ladies” being promoted.

Heaton and co-writer Adam Z. Robinson’s new satirical play is cleverly structured, retrospectively told as part of an investigation with a deliberately ambiguous ending. Smile Club is intense and captivating from start to end, playing on life’s annoyances and absurdities in an original but terrifyingly realistic way. Let’s hope Red Ladder’s bleak vision for the future is far from prophetic!

Smile Club shows in the Bramall Rock Void Theatre 5-7 March before continuing its UK tour: