27
Apr
15

Samson

 

Samson

La Boite and Belvoir Street Theatre

Roundhouse Theatre

April 17 – May 2 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

samson_memorial

 

#samsonisdead

 

Hey! I ‘reckon I know this place. I know the winding, wild-sunflowers-in-summer drive up there, the noisy picnic area, the quieter walk down to the swimming hole, the glorious birdsong along the way, the freezing water, the rocks, the moss, the tree, the rope, the boys who climb and swing and jump…

 

I think we are supposed to question whether Samson’s death is suicide or really, truly, actually a stupid accident. Am I too suspicious? I say I think we are supposed to because I’m not sure what this production wants from us. It’s an intriguing, quite lovely coming-of-age play but in this life it’s not yet fully realised, despite a couple of previous versions. Its vibe reminds me of Jasper Jones, which must have been released at around the same time as Gone Girl. I remember racing out to buy my own copies from Books of Buderim (I remember Mum sighing, “ You don’t need your own copies. Borrow them from the library!”). I read both books quickly, one after the other, and wondered what kind of person would be able to bring this exquisite clash of characters together and take these incredible stories to the stage or screen.

 

“Writing, real writing, should leave a small sweet bruise somewhere on the writer . . . and on the reader.”

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés

 

Julia-Rose Lewis offers us four fascinating characters and wonderful moments of quirky, messy reality in some of the imagery in Samson. It’s her first play so really, some remarkable writing in places, in some of the dialogue, in the connection between Essie (Ashleigh Cummings) and Rabbit (Benjamin Creek), but these are just brief glimpses into a world of young, bored, frustrated people who exist together on the edge of the world without ever really knowing why they’re there. Or how they can get outta’ there. It’s not the whole story. Of course it’s not. It never is.

 

samson_sunbaking

 

The first moments are promising. Despite the strange starkness of a rolling, rising and falling, sponge-painted one-tree-memorial “island” (Designer Michael Hili & Lighting Designer Ben Hughes), as the house lights dim and we hear Australian bushland birdsong (Composer & Sound Designer Kim Bowers), it certainly seems as if something interesting or exciting (or intriguing) will happen. The opening scene succeeds in getting our attention. Two teen friends play a secret drinking game, sharing things that never have they ever done and falling all over each other in their tickle war and general silliness, as girls do, when suddenly a boy of the same age enters and shouts across the space to them. All the conventions of the theatre tell us something bad happened. A friend must have drowned. But the delivery is not quite urgent or desperate enough. The breath comes too easily, the voice… I register the fact that there has possibly been a horrible death and feel nothing.

 

Okay. It’s only the first few minutes. I decide to give them another seventy.

 

samson_belindajombwe

 

It’s always a little strange to be sitting through something that doesn’t quite work. It’s a bit like being at a party and watching the peculiar and spectacular dances people do to try to fit in. I watch the tentative dances these actors do. It’s a funny first ten minutes on opening night, during which I can’t decide if I believe the action or not. It seems strained, and not because someone has died. I seem to be experiencing this play in pieces (and from far away, so strange). The story comes to us in neat little pieces, like choreography taught to us bit by bit at a dance call until all the disparate bits are put together to become a routine. It might not flow; it might not be quite ready for an audience, some of the sections are stronger than others, but with enough confidence it can be presented for an audition panel to get us through to the next round. In fact, it almost feels like we’re watching a workshop. There is confidence here!

 

samson_crystals

 

I love the authentic, easily found fun in the relationship that blossoms between Essie and Rabbit. With the guidance of Director, Kristine Landon-Smith, this fragile friendship develops ever so gradually – she is grieving, guarded; he is open, brazen and persistent – and we begin to see a genuine connection. She hangs with him, defends him and ultimately sides with him. The realness of these two, their relaxed banter, the contrasting personalities and different approaches to life, and the casual use of the intimate space between them highlight the lack of energy and depth in another relationship on stage. I’m unconvinced by it. It doesn’t help that for extended periods of time, for what seems like entire conversations, the actors have their backs to us, but this is not exclusive to this pair. Beth (Belinda Jombwe) and Sid (Charles Wu) both have their moments, but it occurs to me that we may not be seeing their best work in this production. There are moments that feel forced or otherwise oddly timed. (Teenage awkwardness and insecurity can only account for so much!). There are other things that make this one not-my-favourite-show-this-year, including some inattentive vocal work (mumbled words and monotone that could be forgiven if it carried a hint of character, however; it’s unhelpful when we lose the gist of what’s going on), and there are many missed facial expressions (because we are in the round and yet we are not working in the round!), and inconsistencies in the entrances and exits. Where IS the body of water? That way? Or THAT way?

 

“It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires”

― Clarissa Pinkola Estés

 

The four characters have fairly substantial journeys, including a rigorous religious trip for Jombwe, and the need for a strong response to a very confusing discovery. In fact, the religious aspect brings forth quite a bit of confusion, as religion does. Even so, I find it unlikely that everybody actually swears so much in their ordinary conversations (rebels!) and also, it has to be said, that they must have all been “dating” without “doing” anything (virgins? Really? Is that the reason for the religious focus?), but whatevs. Cummings is able to hold her own – she is fine on stage; I hope she finds time to do more theatre work in amongst the screen commitments – but more often than not I find my attention turns to Creek, our ACPA graduate, who encapsulates all of the random energy, physicality and curiosity that is Rabbit, a boy on the verge of manhood. There is an interesting ceremonial aspect that’s worth a mention, in case you wanna’ read it as a symbol of some sort of initiation, behind the guise of a fun fire ritual to impress a girl. Whether or not it’s intentional, the nod to Rabbit’s spiritual side and his problematic family history are the most compelling elements of the multi-racial relationships in this piece.

 

I’ll look forward to seeing Creek in a contrasting role because it appears he was born to play this one. Creek’s performance is excellent, charismatic even (even when we can’t quite catch what he’s said!). He brings to the space the whole package in a wholly relaxed manner, usually observed in performers with a whole lot more stage experience. It will be interesting to see what a director might trust him to do next.

 

samson_fire

 

The balance between Cummings and Creek is pretty near perfect, and perhaps by the end of the Roundhouse run, Jombwe and Wu will have found their feet too. Or will have found the ground beneath their feet. Perhaps the upcoming Belvoir season will serve as further development. Perhaps a walk on the beach between seasons will do it. It really actually feels like this show doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up, a little like its characters, but having said that, I’m sure we’ll see it again. When you see it, you must let me know what you think.

 

I think the play is a keeper; it represents a generation that demands to be written about in a decidedly grown-up-but-resisting-growing-up way. These characters, their challenging behaviour and their violent vernacular cannot be contained within that often dodgy category, variously called “theatre for young people”, “theatre in education” or “youth theatre”. I don’t remember having language like this and relationships like these available for discussion in between our studies of Chekhov and Ibsen. And I’d love to incorporate some of these short scenes into the current realism unit, alongside The Property of the Clan and X-Stacy (yes, those old chestnuts! Still good!). It’s refreshing to see these characters and their stories here, staged for a general audience, which we’ve noticed since Brunes Days* is changing.

 

Samson will appeal to the Under 30s, sure, but there are decent challenges within it and some lovely nostalgia, which is for anyone who’s ever been involved in a precarious friendship or a difficult family situation. And isn’t that all of us?

 

samson_smoking

 

Lewis is without a doubt, a writer to keep an eye on. She’s already secured some great gigs, including commissions from Belvoir, HotHouse and Brisbane Powerhouse. In case you’re not suitably impressed, you should be because IMPRESSIVE!

 

I can’t wait to see her next story brought to vivid life on stage or screen.

In the meantime, there is Samson. See it before May 2 and make up your own mind.

 

*Brunes Days: those days (and nights) before Adam Brunes became an indie producer/marketing guru away from La Boite. I’m sure he won’t mind me sharing his mugshot…

 

(if he does mind we’ll call it #openingnightofficestyle)

 

adambrunes_brunesdays_mugshot

 

 

 

Production Images by Dylan Evans

 

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