This love letter to football and fandom was created off the back of half a decade spent embedded with Sydney's football fans
Insightful, deeply researched and expertly delivered, David Williams’ Smurf in Wanderland offers 90 minutes of political, demographic and personal perspectives on the round ball game in Australia.
The show begins in relaxed, conversational style with Williams, the titular “smurf”, making a weaving run into the recent past; back to 2013, a year Sydney FC fans remember as one of great hope and profound despair.
The hope, Williams reminds us, lay in the club’s signing of the ageing but marketable Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero. The despair came later, in the form of inconsistent on-field performances and an upwelling of toxic feeling between the club’s supporters and management.
But it was a different picture in Western Sydney Wanderers territory, which Williams dared to observe in person while provocatively dressed in Sydney FC sky blue. There he observes a team on the rise and building a strong connection with fans and the local community.
With two 45-minute halves to fill, Williams ranges widely across his subject, blending recollections of his own western suburbs childhood with anecdotes from the stands, match reports, tabloid scuttlebutt, existential musings on the nature of fandom (drawn from Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch) and thoughts on the cultural divides of Sydney.
It’s interesting stuff, even to fans of other codes or sport agnostics, but by the second half the many threads of Williams’ thesis start to feel like a tangle. There’s a late charge in Williams’ second-half takedown of the media campaign against the more boisterous element of the Wanderers fanbase, but it’s too little, too late.
Audio-visual support for Williams is effective (sound by James Brown, lights by Luiz Pampolha) but modest in terms of impact, and the show’s audience participation sequences, which feel like halfhearted attempts at punctuation rather than essential aids to storytelling, produce less than impressive results in this theatre’s end-on configuration. The unfurling of banners and terrace chanting may work more effectively when the show plays on the triangular traverse at Griffin.
Smurf in Wanderland will leave you feeling informed. It may even make you look at Sydney in a different way. But with so many ideas being dribbled around and too few shots at goal, don’t expect to be up on your feet and shouting.