Interview with Andrea Heaton, writer of Smile Club

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Smile Club is a new play, written and performed by Lancaster alumnus, Andrea Heaton, here she talks to SCAN on her new play.

  • You describe the show as ‘Black Mirror meets The Handmaid’s Tale’ – do you draw on elements of these in your show?

I love the way Black Mirror presents a version of the universe which is both recognisable and strange. A dystopian world that feels frighteningly possible! In production, we created something that often feels filmic. Our design team set/ sound/ and AV (audio-visual) have been a big part of making that happen. 

  • What was your inspiration behind the name ‘Smile Club’?

We found a vintage photograph of a woman with a picture of a smile strapped to her face, and a strange story about people attending a smile club to combat mental health in the 1950s. The story was very probably untrue but the image was so strong and the name stuck.

  • What inspired you to write ‘Smile Club’?

Reading Laura Bates, ‘Everyday Sexism’, and feeling that I wanted to find a way to respond. And an anecdote about a man who would not let women through the barrier at a train station until she gave him a smile provided the spark to create the story that could do that.

  • Dystopian narratives typically reflect the societal context they are written in, is this the case with ‘Smile Club’?

Absolutely! We’ve been living with Smile Club for 2 years now and every week there’s something in the news that feeds the narrative. Individual cases of violence against women, the prime minister responding to rape threats against his fellow MP’s with “Humbug”, and this week high profile convictions. 

  • If there was anyone on the fence about coming, how would you persuade them to attend?

 Smile Club is a darkly funny and thrilling story full of twists and turns. An audience member said it was ‘brilliantly on the nose’ – I’m happy with that!

  • So you studied an MA at Lancaster, was it always your plan to return and perform?

 It’s lovely to be back in Lancaster! I set up home across the Pennines. But the North is where it’s at right?

  • Why did you choose to write a dystopian?

Setting Smile Club in an alternative universe gave us the freedom to push everything we wanted to say a little further. The horror elements were a real thrill to create too- especially when AV Designer Adam Foley and Sound Designer Ed Heaton came on board. 

  • Have there been any challenges in writing and producing?

Collaborating with Red Ladder Theatre has been a joy. Adam Robinson and I work really well as a writing team. Rod Dixon’s direction has allowed us both to play to our strengths and take the show to another level. 

  • Could you elaborate on the comic and satire element?

Our main character Lisa finds herself in an almost farcical situation. I really enjoy creating, an often stark contrast between the light and the dark, humour is a great way to achieve that. We created one character in particular who’s comic persona creates a great contrast with the darker elements of the story- you won’t forget positive Paula in a hurry! 

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