views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Mr Smith
Etcetera Theatre
24th August 2015

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for Mr Smith

Photography provided by Rising Moon Theatre

Lee Smith (Colin Connor) is a teacher. No, it's not that he works as a teacher, he is one. This is a man who has found his calling; his job defines who he is. He's so passionate about what he does for a living, Lee should have every reason to get up in the morning, full of the joys, but when we meet him, he looks like a wreck. Lee slowly gets out of bed and limps over to his desk to pour himself a hair of the dog and pop a few pills. Written and performed by Connor, Mr Smith is a haunting piece of solo theatre in which we find out how one secondary school teacher's life suddenly and violently implodes.

As soon as Lee puts on a record, he perks up, momentarily losing himself in the music. That painful leg is forgotten as he jigs around, waving his arms and singing along. It could be any 1980s vinyl, however The Rules of Love is actually a new new composition, penned by a former pupil. It transpires not only has he passed on his devotion to English literature and helped countless pupils attain excellent grades in that subject, Lee has also shared with them his love of The Smiths. Of course, if subtly isn't your thing, the t-shirt he's wearing with The Queen is Dead emblazoned on it might help confirm his fan status.

Despite the upbeat tempo and energy of The Queen is Dead (the song which gives the acclaimed album its title), it does contain such cheery lyrics as "Life is very long, when you're lonely" and isn't as happy as you might think. Listen carefully, and there's a bleakness close to the surface. Lee is a complex individual and so is the music that he holds dear - probably why he likes it. However, given when you go through a rough time, you do have a tendency to play one depressing song over and over again, you do wonder what effect The Smiths on loop could have for someone already in a dark place.

The score by Mark Simpson evokes the same period, and is important in demonstrating the impact that band have indirectly had on Lee's pupil, and therefore the impact that they've had on him. It's a well-thought out use of sound, and key in establishing Lee's character. There are so many issues we begin to explore - to name a few, the injustice of Lee's situation and the wider debate surrounding it, mental health, the impact of music. However, at only 40 minutes, we feel like we just don't get enough time with the character or plot.

Mr Smith is a fleeting glimpse into a tragic situation which leaves you wondering if this time, lessons could actually be learned. Has the world changed, or has he?

Mr Smith opened on 24th August and runs until 25th August 2015 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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