The Smile Off Your Face is one of those shows that it’s nigh on impossible to review without ruining it. You’ll arrive at C’s newest venue, C Place (the basement of the Place Hotel on York Place). You’ll wait your turn and then someone will come and fetch you and take you downstairs – as this is a show for one. You’ll be asked to step into a wheelchair, asked to wear a blindfold, asked if you mind if they tie your hands. A door opens (you’ll sense before you hear) and you’ll be trundled forward. Saying any more would spoil the surprise.
But you can know that this is a glorious half hour long assault on your senses. You’ll hear familiar and unfamiliar sound effects, wisps of dialogue, dreamlike snatches of song. You’ll feel, you’ll touch, you’ll taste – things. Your wheelchair will be wielded around an unknown space but so gently, so politely, that abandoning yourself to the magical mystery tour is almost a relief. For this half hour, this story will be brought to, and curated for, you.
Ontroerend Goed are regulars at the Fringe. Based in Belgium, they were last seen in Edinburgh before things went awry in 2019 with their extraordinary Are we not drawn onward to new erA? They have a track record of flouting theatrical expectations. This piece was first produced nearly twenty years ago, made its way to the Fringe in 2007 and has now been updated for an audience pandemic-starved of people.
There is a whisker of a story in here, told through touch and insinuating whispers, told by snatched hands and tears. Is it about someone else or is it about you? Traditionalists, seeking a beginning, middle and an end may feel cheated by this show. But if you believe that theatre is all about inhabiting – wallowing in – the moment and seeking things out that might entice you to flip your world view on its head, this show is thrilling.
For the fainthearted, it isn’t scary. It isn’t intrusive. It isn’t unpleasant. (It’s extremely pleasant.) Your permission will be sought at every appropriate turn. You’ll be asked some seemingly innocuous questions – and some enormous philosophical ones. You may be surprised by your answers.