Concrete Playground

By Zacha Rosen – I Love Todd Sampson

I Love Todd Sampson

There is an exercise you can do try to understand the experience of schizophrenia. You put on headphones (and sometimes goggles) that scream loud abuse in your ears. You try to act like normal. And you fail.

I Love Todd Sampson is a gentler version of this sort of thing. The play takes you into the head of Laura (an energetic Gabrielle Quin), who is skating along the edges of a nervous breakdown. Her mind is exploded across Pier 2/3, her grief dissected and pinned to the walls, like the atomised belly of an open frog. Along with her fragmented experience of mind, Laura has become obsessed with Gruen Transfer-ing ad man Todd Sampson, who makes a virtual cameo in her fantasies and in the play itself.

The audience is on its feet for most of this striking hour and a half of theatre, though there are some chairs scattered along the way. Laura, responsible for the death of a pedestrian in a traffic accident some years before, suffers a breakdown seemingly triggered by the death of her father. Hallucinations torment her, played by the rest of the cast.

You follow her and her visions along the full length of the play’s cavernous venue. They throw themselves from one set to the next as furiously as OK Go rush between Heath Robinson machines. The sets are similarly complex, but in this case they’ve been assembled by a collection of artists and architects to create a low-key, uncanny evening on the boards. They range from spider-like chandeliers in an improbably sound-making piano bar, unexpected vehicular incursions, and pieces of house at play. The back of each piece of art or architecture shows, which gives a feeling of blurred edges that suit the themes. The sets are stunning, and a full list of the production’s many contributors are listed on the site.

The narrative flow of the play is spot on, drawing the audience from one set to the next with perfect timing, as Laura descends into suicide and sadness. The audience experience is a little less precise, with unclear practical boundaries, especially when it came to knowing what you can or cannot touch. This doesn’t undermine the fun, though. And there’s something of a drink-free, wander-as-you-like Jurassic Lounge feel to things. There are also innumerable neat minor touches, from a split-screen bedroom to the almost-imperceptible movement of the show’s pianist (Alister Spence).

So much of this play is made from surprise spectacle and the subtle accumulation of acting and soundscape that I Love Todd Sampson is an easy play to recommend, though a hard one to describe. What does this add up to? An intimate and, despite its heavy themes, delightful experimental theatrical production. Also, wear comfortable shoes.

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