BWW REVIEW: The Complexities Of Love, Grief Dealing With Loved Ones In Pain Are Expressed In JESUS WANTS ME FOR A SUN BEAM.
Friday 7th February 2020, 7:30pm, Belvoir St Theatre
Steve Rodgers' adaptation of Peter Goldsworthy's novella JESUS WANTS ME FOR A SUN BEAM comes to the Belvoir St stage under Darren Yap's direction. Following a premiere season at Riverside Theatres, National Theatre of Parramatta's production is presented by Belvoir.
The premise of JESUS WANTS ME FOR A SUN BEAM is that young man Ben (Liam Nunan ) is trying to come to terms with a significant event of his childhood. Finally reunited with his mother Linda (Emma Jackson) after years of living in his Grandma (Valerie Bader) and Grandpa's (Mark Lee) care, he tries to make sense of the letters his father Rick (Matthew Whittet) left for him to receive at a rate of one per birthday. Gradually a picture of the past unfolds, going back to university lovebirds where Linda and Rick fall in love, get married and have Ben and his younger sister Wol (Grace Truman). Linda and Rick are protective of children, to the point of paranoia so the receipt of the news that Wol has terminal leukemia is an incredible blow that has them reassessing their relationship with religion and further retreating into an isolated family unit that even distances them from Grandma and Grandpa. . When Wol is diagnosed with terminal cancer they retreat even further from the world, even distancing themselves from the children's grandparents, in order to try to protect their family unit of 4.
While the work has a beautiful aesthetic, designed by Emma Vine, the wonderful murals of Wol's imagination and the grand alter like bookcase focal point aren't enough to distract from the unconscionable conduct of the storyline that justifies what is tantamount to a assisted suicide/suicide pact to comfort a dying child about what happens after death whilst forgetting about the trauma inflicted on the living. The family grapple with their faith, finding it hard to understand why god would inflict such a fate on a child, clutching at a song line to explain the situation to Wol, but while they turn their back on the church, they retain their beliefs, particularly in the existence of a life after death and a heaven. The utilization of space has the 'house' rise out of the center of the corner stage, echoing the island the family are making of their protected world, but it increases the challenge connecting the audience to the story and the characters. The tiered stage also causes issues for sight lines for the audience in the side seating banks.
The performances are tender and express a loving family whilst having moments of humor to lighten the weight of the work. Of special note is Liam Nunan who shifts from the older Ben searching for answers to the young child experiencing but not fully understanding what is happening with a ease and clarity. Grace Truman captures the child with many questions, about her family and her life, and the unknown future. Yap does however let the energy of the work sit at a fairly consistent level and whilst the performers don't overplay the roles, a greater degree of light and shade of the expression may have helped combat the challenges of the work.
JESUS WANTS ME FOR A SUN BEAM takes a very unusual position on love, life and death that may or may not sit well with audiences, depending on how much they can relate to the very specific family expressed on stage. Whilst other works catch on some level of relatability, the characters sketched are quite specific as are their views on religion and law. For fans of Peter Goldsworthy's novella, this work would appeal. For those new to the story, be prepared with an open mind and accept that you will more than likely be challenged.