Sam Simmons – Death Of A Sails-Man
Sam Simmons @ Garden of Unearthly Delights – Idolize Spiegeltent
7:45pm, Thu 6 Mar 2014
Every time Sam Simmons brings a show to the Fringe, I try to squeeze it in; but, as I seem to write nearly every year since my first (glorious) Simmons experience, there’s a significant chance that it could be a show that completely fails to connect with me.
And what I should have recognised by now is that I don’t get along with Simmons’ narrative-driven pieces; the central narrative thread makes the abstract asides feel somewhat forced, with the entire performance feeling less cohesive as a result. That seems like a pretty weird thing to say, especially when compared to a collection of surreal sight-and-sound gags, but that’s what it feels like to me.
Unfortunately, Death Of A Sails-Man is a narrative piece: in a fanciful flashback, Simmons is a successful corporate man who also happens to be a keen windsurfer. Blown out to sea one day, he suffers a bout of panicked existentialism; “antiquated” technology, delirium, and undersea expeditions provide most of the familiar rants and excursions into surreality.
But also familiar are Simmons’ chuckles of disbelief to himself; but I’m now cynical enough to think that they aren’t necessarily a response to “I can’t believe I thought that would be funny.” There’s an element of self-indulgence creeping in now, and it feels like a backhanded mocking of the audience: “I can’t believe these people give me money for this shit.”
To be fair, the audience itself probably put me in a bad mood for this show: from the moment I realised I was sharing the line with people who were double-fisting beers, I started moping: these were not the people I want to be sharing a show with. Mind you, Simmons’ willingness to bite the hand that feeds him is commendable: the lights dropped to black for a scene change, and a woman two seats down from me started using her phone, her face illuminated by its glow. Simmons saw it from the stage: “Stop using your fucking phone!” he yelled in the darkness, and as the lights come up he’s pointing directly at her.
But corralling the audience is not why I turn up to a Sam Simmons show. I want to see surreality delivered with confidence and conviction; I want to see inside the mind of a professional lunatic. I want to see a tightly-wrangled audio-visual Erotic Cat-like experience again without zealous sound guys causing tinnitus (Simmons’ voice was so dominant in the mix he had to keep asking the tech to bump the volume on his backing track). And whilst I know that Simmons can write a narrative – Problems showed that, with each episode proving a self-contained delight – it’ll be awhile before I commit to another such show from this once-inspiring man.
— Pete Muller (@festivalfreakAU) March 6, 2014