The Smile Off Your Face
4 stars ****
C soco, Chambers Street (Venue 348)
IN THE LITTLE WAITING-ROOM at the entrance, where people wait to be taken, one by one, into the experience that is The Smile Off Your Face, there is a visitors’ book where people can write their comments on the show; and I can’t recall ever seeing one so full of ecstatic capital letters, blobby tearstains, and the word “amazing”, repeated again and again. Brought to Edinburgh by the gifted young Belgian company Ontroerend Goed, The Smile Off Your Face is like a little 30-minute journey through the fundamentals of life itself, given added intensity by the fact that each audience member begins the journey sitting in a wheelchair like a helpless child, eyes blindfolded, and hands lightly bound together; any idea of controlling your own fate has to be forgotten, for a while, to be replaced by a child-like absorption in the moment.
First, there are sounds – rushing water, arguing voices – and feeling of being moved around. Later – and always in an atmosphere of great gentleness, with lots of requests for permission – there are closer encounters with the actors, as they lead you into a dance, or somehow persuade to confess your deepest feelings about life and love. And finally, with the blindfold off, there is the most beautiful moment of revelation, as you see the whole experience laid out behind you, like a lifetime flashing before your eyes.
Some of the images revealed at this moment are slightly stronger than others; and of course, this is not a show for those who like to stay in control at all times. But as an essay in intimacy, human warmth, and real emotional attention – and a reflection on the shocking lack of it, in many busy modern lives – The Smile Off Your Face is an unforgettable experience. As I waited, I saw one woman leaving in floods of tears. “But don’t worry,” she smiled, “these are good tears. Sometimes, it’s great to cry.”
Until 18 August