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Sam Simmons: Fail

Note: This review is from 2010

Review by Steve Bennett

Well-established absurdist Sam Simmons’s new show packs in the gags, stories and overall weirdness so densely it feels almost claustrophobic. There’s little chance to catch your breath as he relentlessly drives forward with wave after wave of intense material, layered on to music, slides and voiceovers and so rich with callbacks and other physical flourishes that it requires all your concentration to keep up.

At the end of this performance, at least, an apparently frustrated Simmons sought reassurance that we’d enjoyed it – fearing that he’d ‘weirded us out’ with his surreal nonsense. In truth, we were probably just punch drunk on the intense content, we needed a moment for it to all settle in.

The show’s title might be an open goal for reviewers, but in fact refers to the dark day earlier this year when he feared his whole life was a failure. His girlfriend of two and half years had left him, he was down to his last $14 and sharing a flat with a middle-aged alcoholic. At 32, he owned nothing and feared he had achieved the same, so when he dropped a Sellotape dispenser on his foot, it was the last straw. Suicidal thoughts started to ferment.

At last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, Kim Noble mined similar thoughts for a bleak, disturbing examination of depression. Here, the tone is much lighter, and the conclusion more uplifting – after all, Simmons did eventually discover his own reasons to be cheerful.

But that’s not before he expresses his fury at the world in spleen-venting invective, ranting against anything from the broad ‘babies’ to the worryingly specific ‘men over 32 flying kites on the beach’. Whatever the target, though, the rage is compelling.

Then there are the game show interludes, in which Simmons answers surreal questions set by his own internal quizmaster, a fast-paced series of impossible-to-answer brainteasers that wouldn’t be out of place in Reeves and Mortimer’s Shooting Stars, if the warped British show made it down under. Then there are the fantastical stories of ants, popcorn and skateboarders, read from a pile of sizeable tomes littering the stage.

It’s an hour-long onslaught all right, and frequently hilarious, especially in those bizarre question rounds. Other sections can be more baffling, while the full-on density of the material offers little chance of a relaxing chuckle, even if there is so much going on here, there’s bound to be something you like. A precise but powerful performance adds another layer of comedy – as if the show needed it – from Simmons’s exaggerated physicality.

Not a fail, by any measure.

Review date: 4 Apr 2010
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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