Samson makes me excited. It is always exciting to see the works of young Australian writers debut in Brisbane. It is even more exciting to see a work set in an out-skirting suburb within rural Queensland. The simultaneous claustrophobia and isolation that comes with a rural Australian landscape became a perfect playground for writer Julia-Rose Lewis, Director Kristine Landon-Smith, and the diverse characters that inhabit its vast planes and intimate crevices of the desolate country town.
While playing ‘Never Have I Ever’, the old coming-of-age favorite, Essie (Ashleigh Cummings) and Beth (Belinda Jombwe) are punched with a gut wrenching new experience that stretches far beyond their simple game of sex-focused gossip. The death of a close friend at a young age. With their dear friend and supposed budding lover Sammy gone, the girls’ perceptions of morals and faith are tested, their friendship is threatened, and their futures are forced to a standstill.
Cummings is all but unfamiliar in her role as the rebellious and defensive teenager who blames her home life for her doubts and exclusions. But Essie is no Debbie Vicker, her ‘puberty blues’ stretch beyond family and friendship and into realms of faith, death and fate. Cummings’ rough-and-righteousness bursts out of her braided head and across the playing space in what begins as an eye rolling “not another foul mouthed country girl” and transforms into a raw performance that peaks on the cusp of discovering what adulthood is really about.
Jombwe, on the other hand, is saddled with the pressure-fueled role of the young woman trying to embrace her faith despite powerful thwarting obstacles. Beth rose as a worthy opponent to Essie’s rejection of church and prayer. Her insightful voice could easily resonate with those of us who have struggled with the concept of faith or trust in our more darker our doubt-filled moments. Samson reminds us that blind faith can be difficult for even the most dedicated of believers when secrets and loss are looming.
Countering the conflicted girls is Sid (Charles Wu), a typical smart assed yet sensitive country boy who struggles to keep his loud mouth and urges at bay. Sid and Beth’s relationship explores the complexities of faith and forgiveness in the crux of destruction and heartbreak. Jombwe and Wu carry the battle between faith and friendship; perplexing truths and dashed morals; and the understandable teenage angst that comes with juggling a budding romance with tragic loss and impending change.
With the introduction of Rabbit (Benjamin Creek) comes the disruption of history, routine and mourning. In a world where everyone knows everyone and going to church is just what you do, Rabbit’s refreshing outlook and similar past might just be what Essie needs in order to cope. With lots of places to hide, Rabbit embraces the future and the beauty of each of life’s moments, something Essie has avoided through the distraction of blaming her troubles on her home. Despite the occasional muffled delivery or awkward fight scene with Wu, Creek’s performance shone with a lovable comprehension of life’s darkest moments, reminding us that if the sky won’t fall why fear our most genuine instincts? With Rabbit’s cheek and Essie’s new lease on life, a dim light forms down the path of uncertain futures and undeniable truths.
Samson‘s landscape sat like an isolated island in the centre of the roundhouse theatre. The warped ground each character stood upon seemed to stick out like a sore thumb in the urban Brisbane zeitgeist. While Michael Hili’s set design seemed to scream out, as if it were an additional character struggling to balance the feelings of familiarity and displacement, Kim Bower’s sound design turned outback noises of crickets and owls into what seemed like a ticking clock for the teenagers inching their way into adulthood. All four young Australians tiptoed, stomped, and climbed their way across their surroundings, occasionally splaying themselves out to reflect on their journey. With each unexpected path presenting new fears and uncertain futures, no wonder each character suffered a love-hate relationship with their “home”.
Time is always important when you’re in your mid to late teens. Whether you’ve accepted its importance and potential like Rabbit, or you’re desperately trying to hold onto the past like Beth, time always seems to catch up with us. Samson uses time to crash through expectations, hopes, and doubts. It reveals things we hadn’t considered, confirms things we wished weren’t true, and of course, heals old wounds just as the old saying goes.
– Written by Rhumer Diball APR 23th 2015
SAMSON PRESENTED BY LA BOITE AND BELVOIR THEATRE COMPANY.
LA BOÎTE: FRI 17 APR – SAT MAY 2, 2015.
Photo credit Dylan Evans.