Directed by Stephen Lloyd-Coombs
The Kings Fools in association with bAKEHOUSE Theatre Company
Kings Cross Theatre
Kings Cross Hotel, 244-248 William Street, Kings Cross
Season: 27 May – 11 June
Often our innermost thoughts and immediate reactions in compromising situations are a lot darker, and a lot less politically correct, than we’d like to admit. We censor ourselves because we know those thoughts are hurtful or offensive. And yet they remain, relatively unchanged - suppressed… The Kings Fools’ production, Smudge, is a revealing play - one that exposes individuals as they begin to lose control of this suppression. It’s an honest expression of what parents may feel when their child doesn’t fit in the box of ‘normality’, due to extreme physical deformity, and it intends to unsettle. What’s the best way to deal with such grim and rather contentious issues? Comedy, of course.
Colby and Nick are expecting a baby, in eager anticipation. They get a routine ultrasound, but it’s smudged. They decide to wait for the surprise to find out the baby’s sex. But when Colby gives birth, the baby isn’t quite what they expected. Born without limbs and otherwise deformed, the baby is whisked rapidly away from Colby and placed in medical support. By the time Colby and Nick take Cassandra, their baby, home, Colby feels estranged from her child and somewhat slighted by the ordeal. Nick is determined to make the best of the situation. Tension proceeds.
The play is funny, and true to its ‘black comedy’ form – sometimes you feel uncomfortable laughing. Lloyd-Coombs’ direction embraces comedic elements wherever possible, which proves to be engaging. The actors, in turn, encompass the hilarity and tragedy that is inherent in the text. Danielle Connor plays Colby with warm vulnerability. When watching her character develop, I felt as if she wasn’t the character I was ‘supposed’ to warm to, given her distancing attitude towards her child. (“that’s not how a mother should act!”) And yet, Connor’s refusal to gloss over the questionable acts and attitudes of Colby allowed me to sympathise strongly for her. Connor displays adept comic timing, as well as clearly evoking Colby’s devastating situation, without her becoming a mere victim. Kieran Foster plays Nick, who the audience first receives as endearing and well meaning. Yet, as he spends more and more time at work and increasingly shifts the blame of their situation onto Colby, I couldn’t help but feel resentment towards him. Nick’s incessant optimism and apparent naivety creates an effective contrast with Colby’s experience and hence contributes to relationship breakdown. A three-hander play, Nick Hunter plays Nick’s brother Pete. This character is brash, egotistical and ignorant – and Hunter embodies this to a tee, with comedic charm.
The production design of this work is excellent, with Elia Bosshard responsible for set design and Liam O’Keefe designing the lighting. A range of eerie props prove to essentially become characters in their own right – especially through the illustration of the baby Cassandra through her lit and tubed medical cot. The marrying of different design elements create a fantastical set piece that propels the play into the realm of borderline surrealism.
Apparently Axler’s play has been criticised for its portrayal of disability. These criticisms shouldn’t be ignored. And yet, it is brave to depict two parents’ agonising responses when coming to terms with the fact that their child doesn’t meet the social criteria for ‘normality’. By placing some of the more unsightly views that linger in our society at the forefront of the stage, we can confront why exactly these views remain. Why do we laugh? Why do we blame? Why does it make me feel sick? To confront a problem is always better than sweeping it under the carpet