Richard Fry @ Higher Ground – Art Base
9:00pm, Tue 8 Mar 2011
After seeing Bully last year, and having a number of lovely chats with Richard Fry, I resolved that he would be one of the artists that I would unreservedly support in the future; thus, Smiler was inked into The Schedule early.
If anything, Smiler seems to be a more personal piece than last year’s effort. It deals with Fry’s eponymous best friend, a young man who was struck by a drunk driver and suffered severe head injuries. Restricted to a life of medication and intensive physiotherapy, Smiler’s family struggled with his round-the-clock care requirements… which is how Fry met him.
With some level of humbleness, Fry recounts (in rhyme, of course) how he reacted when first meeting Smiler – the discomfort associated with those early interactions is a source of shame now. But despite Smiler’s limited communication, he and Fry bonded – and there’s several absolutely joyful segments where we’re privy to the kind of larrikin antics that the two would engage in; becoming comfortable with Smiler’s limitations, whilst still wanting to satisfy his pre-accident preferences, is a common thread.
But for all the joy in the relationship that Fry opens up for us, there’s also proper heartbreak; I can safely say that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. But it’s far more than a tear-jerker; it speaks volumes (as does the programme) about what it means to care for a disabled person… how the abled benefits from the experience. And Fry leaves us in no doubt about the positive impact Smiler has had on his life.
Richard Fry’s delivery in Smiler is identical to that in Bully – a beautifully paced monologue which manages to dance around the irregularly balanced and occasionally awkward rhymes of his performance poetry. But this similarity in style is in no way a bad thing: I love Fry’s approachable manner, and he manages to pack such a wide range of convincing emotions into his hour that it can be almost overwhelming. And, above all else, it’s an intensely rewarding experience.