It’s being billed as a must-see for both theatre-lovers and football/soccer fans alike across Western Sydney and beyond.
Directed by Griffin Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Lee Lewis, Smurf in Wanderland is an examination of football, tribalism, belonging and identity. Documentary theatre maker, writer and football fanatic David Williams is the ‘Smurf’ (the nickname given to fans of the Sydney Football Club) and ‘Wanderland’ is the home ground of the Western Sydney Wanderers. For many years, Williams has been a member of the Sydney Football Club (Sydney FC) and, for this project, he attended Western Sydney Wanderers’ games on their home turf over an extended period, decked out in his Sydney FC jersey.
But instead of fearing for his life, Williams says he found a profound unity among the ritual and fierce loyalty of the Wanderers fans.
Asked by Theatre People how Smurf in Wanderland came about, Williams says he’s joked for many years about wanting to do a show about football, in order to claim his Sydney FC club membership as a tax deduction.
It was at an event in 2013 that Williams told the joke to Lee Lewis.
“Rather than laughing, she pressed me on it and asked what would the show be about,” Williams recalls. “I didn’t expect that. I expected that she would laugh and we would go back to having a conversation about theatre.
“Trying to think on my feet, I said, ‘I was born in Parramatta and I’m a Sydney FC member, so how about I spend a year going along to Western Sydney Wanderer home games and talk to people?’ And from that conversation, Smurf in Wanderland, the show, was born.”
Williams discusses his own history as a football fan.
“I’ve been a Sydney FC member for 10 years now, and during that time, there’ve been lots of very bad years where we’ve played like rubbish, and a couple of good years where we’ve been exciting and we’ve won and it’s been great. But more on the rubbish end, from my experience,” he says.
“When the Wanderers came into existence [in 2012], I had this moment of indecision … I wasn’t there for the beginning of Sydney FC as a fan, but I had the opportunity, like many people, to be there at the beginning for this new club. And so, at the time, I had a family membership with a whole bunch of friends and we had this conversation about [how] we’d had a really bad couple of years with Sydney FC. [Did] we want to be part of this new club?
“There was this outraged horror at the idea that you’d even have a conversation about it. We’d made our choice – we’re supporters of Sydney FC.”
Williams continues: “It was only at that point, coming to a realisation that even though I have a sentimental and historical attachment to Parramatta – I was born in Parramatta and I grew up and lived in the area for the first 21 years of my life – that’s not who I am anymore. It was then I started to think about what it is to be a football fan, what it is to move away from home, to think about the way in which the landscape of your childhood is utterly transformed during 20 years of absence to the point where you don’t recognise it anymore. So, Smurf in Wanderland is reflective on a range of those things – what it means to be a fan [and]how the different parts of Sydney connect to and think about other parts of Sydney …”
Williams has enjoyed having the opportunity to collaborate with Lewis on Smurf in Wanderland.
“Lee is also a football fan and it’s been an excuse for her to indulge a smaller passion and get more serious about it,” he says. “That’s been fun.”
What does Williams hope those who attend will take away from their experience at Smurf in Wanderland?
“I do hope that people think about their experience of Sydney in a slightly more complex way, and the way in which Sydney has changed over the last 20 years, in particular,” he says.
“I would really like people to think about what it is to be a fan, and it doesn’t have to be a football/soccer fan. There is a serious thread about obsession and developing obsessions and cultivating them over time, and the ways in which obsessive behaviours do change your relationships with other people. So, I hope that people are able to think about those things.
“But more than anything else, I just hope that people come and have a good time and are able to think about the places that they live in in a slightly more interesting way.”
And precisely who should come along and see this show?
“I’d really like a mix of people who are fans of theatre and people who are fans of sport, and I think there’s a surprising overlap between those two groups of people,” Williams says.
“Both sport and theatre share a sense that they are one of the very few places in contemporary society where people with very different opinions gather to share a common experience. I hope that Smurf in Wanderland provides such an opportunity for [people] to gather and reflect upon the places that they live and the things that they love, and do so with a group of strangers that they then develop a bond with.”
In conjunction with the production, National Theatre of Parramatta is presenting a photographic exhibition ‘Wanderland’ by award-winning photographer and die-hard Western Sydney Wanderers fan, Eric Berry. The exhibition will feature images from Western Sydney Wanderers games and aims to provide a unique insight into the magic of football.
Wanderland Exhibition: Now until 29 April in the foyer of Riverside Theatres
SMURF IN WANDERLAND – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Riverside Theatres – Corner of Church and Market Streets, Parramatta
Thursday 20 April at 7.30pm – Preview
Friday 21 April at 7.30pm – Opening night
Saturday 22 and 29 April at 2pm and 7.30pm
Wednesday 26, Thursday 27 and Friday 28 April at 7.30pm
Thursday 27 April at 11am – includes Q&A
Followed by Griffin Theatre Company season: SBW Stables Theatre, Kings Cross, 2-13 May
Duration: 90 minutes plus interval
Tickets: Adult $49, Concession $35 From the Box Office (02) 8839 3399 or www.riversideparramatta.com.au
Transaction fees: phone $4.60, web $3.60 and counter $2.60
Discounts available for Riverside Theatres’ Members