For the past decade, Western Sydney-born documentary theatre maker and writer David Williams has been a member of the Sydney Football Club (more commonly known as Sydney FC), continuing to demonstrate unwavering support for the team during some of its more trying times.
In 2012, a second Sydney club arrived in Australia’s premier soccer competition, the A-League, and that club was the Western Sydney Wanderers. Originally considered as a potential home for Sydney’s first A-League team several years earlier, Western Sydney now had its very own club to represent its ever-growing community. The Wanderers quickly made their presence felt in the competition, winning the A-League premiership in their inaugural season and reaching the Grand Final. The following year, the club again contested the A-League Grand Final.
Williams, originally a resident of what was now the Wanderers heartland, decided to sign up to attend Wanderers matches at their home ground (affectionately referred to as ‘Wanderland’) over an extended period. Not only did he make the decision to attend, but proudly wore his own club gear while sitting within a sea of devoted Wanderers fans. Williams was literally a ‘smurf’ (the nickname given to fans of Sydney FC) in ‘Wanderland’.
Under the direction of Griffin Theatre Company’s award-winning Artistic Director Lee Lewis (whose outstanding work on Angus Cerini’s The Bleeding Tree was recognised at the 2016 Helpmann Awards), Smurf in Wanderland is essentially a conversation between Williams and his audience. In two halves (like a football/soccer match), Williams recalls the experiences he had during his time as a ‘smurf’ in ‘Wanderland’. He talks about the family beside whom he regularly sat at the games, the 2 Unlimited-inspired chants reserved for former Wanderers’ marquee player Shinji Ono, the backlash that followed media reports of bad behaviour by fans, and the wonderful sense of unity Williams says he encountered among the Wanderers’ fans.
On top of his ‘Smurf in Wanderland’ experiences, Williams also regales the audience with several stories of life outside football, including how his immigrant family came to establish a new life in Sydney in the suburb of Greystanes, as well as his school years spent studying in the southwest. There’s also considerable discussion of his own club, Sydney FC, including its struggles with an identity crisis and the demise of former head coach, Frank Farina, who was ultimately sacked because of considerable dissatisfaction about his management of the club.
It’s an entertaining ride on which we’re taken; Williams quickly proves himself to be a natural storyteller, engaging his audience with a relaxed, highly conversational delivery of each episode. There’s an unobtrusive use of sound effects and music that adds atmosphere to certain moments throughout, and Williams even leads the audience in several crowd chants, occasionally calling upon them to hold banners. Whether you’re a football fan or not, it’s an enjoyable show that touches on aspects of life in Sydney with which we are all familiar.
There is arguably room to trim this show and perhaps consider a re-ordering of some of the stories for the purpose of maximising the impact of particularly key moments. But as it is, Smurf in Wanderland is a memorable evening of theatre, which puts contemporary life in Greater Sydney front and centre. It’s also a great thing to see the National Theatre of Parramatta continuing to facilitate opportunities for the staging of stories reflective of life in the Western Sydney region, and partnering with established Sydney companies to take those stories to a wider audience again.
SMURF IN WANDERLAND – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Riverside Theatres – Corner of Church and Market Streets, Parramatta
Dates: Friday 28 April at 7.30pm, Saturday 29 April at 2pm and 7.30pm
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