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THEATRE: 19 MAY 2015

By SANDRA BOWDEN

Samson, by Julia-Rose Lewis | Directed by Kristine Landon-Smith

Belvoir & La Boite | Belvoir Street Downstairs Theatre | Until 31 May

From the body of one guilty deed a thousand ghostly fears and haunting thoughts proceed.

Lately it seems that every time I enter Downstairs Belvoir, something extraordinary has been done to transform the space. What Michael Hili has done for Samson is no exception. An intricate curving platform with several levels takes some negotiating by the entering audience. It’s both deceptively simple and ambitious, which suits the next 75 minutes very well.

Samson is Julia-Rose Lewis’s first play — a touching, charming and often humorous story of young people facing the most challenging rite of passage, the death of a friend. As a first play, it has some rough edges, yet somehow these seem to fit with the uncertainty and mercurial moods of late adolescence.

The Samson of the title — known as Sammy to Essie (Ashleigh Cummings), Beth (Belinda Jombwe) and Sid (Charles Wu) — is the unseen fifth character. His death within the first few minutes sets up the struggle to comprehend the incomprehensible, to honour his short life while working out where to go from here.

Enter Rabbit (Benjamin Creek) — a few years younger, drawn to Essie, in turn pulling her away from Beth and Sid and further challenging the already crumbling cohesion of the group.

Lewis’s naturalistic dialogue is well crafted and expertly delivered by this excellent cast. Kristine Landon-Smith’s direction drives the sort of edgy, urgent pace befitting the power of grief: the longing for the pain to stop, for things to go back to the way they were.

The main thing that jarred in this small space was the attempt to create pursuit by running in circles over the platform, which diminished the drama.

The banter and gentle development of Cummings’ and Creek’s relationship is where Samson truly shines. On the night I saw this, Creek was struggling with a fat lip that I am guessing came about from some over-enthusiasm during the fight scene from earlier performances. Despite this obscuring some of his dialogue, his laid-back and self-effacing delivery was a delight.

With the same unassuming humour, Lewis notes that Samson was 25 years in the making. I’ll be keen to see what she comes up with next. Hopefully it won’t take quite that long next time around.

Images: Lisa Tomasetti