The Day Sam Died
4 stars ****
New Town Theatre (Venue 7)
IF THE FUTURE OF healthcare – as public service or private business – is one of the key issues facing all modern democracies, then this latest explosively brilliant show from Armazem Theatre of Brazil is the play that takes the hospital drama by the scruff off the neck, and turns it into a raging, beautiful and surreal piece of theatre about what is now a global struggle between extreme neoliberal capitalism, and more democratic and communitarian views of the good society. At the centre of the play – co-written by Mauricio Arruda Mendonca and director Paulo de Moraes – stands the figure of the Chief Surgeon, a highly-skilled, drug-addicted barbarian who treats his patients with contempt, and sees it as natural that the best healthcare should be commandeered by the rich.
His life takes a complex turn, though, on the day when, in a series of repeating scenarios, he encounters three possible different people called Sam. There’s the junior operating theatre nurse who goes berserk and starts wielding a gun in the hospital foyer, raging about how a just and compassionate hospital should be run. There’s the senior woman judge, Samantha, who needs a life-saving operation, but questions the morality of jumping the treatment queue. And there’s Samir the former clown, suffering from worsening dementia after a lifetime of entertaining the nation’s children.
For a hugely rich and beautiful 80 minutes, punctuated by thunderous live rock music, de Moraes’s production leads us through the dream-world of these three scenarios, in a torrent of shifting light, and of alternating fury and stillness. And at the heart of the show, there are a series of outstanding performances from some of Brazil’s finest actors, including Patricia Selonk as Samantha, and Ricardo Martins as the Chief Surgeon, the living embodiment of the belief that economic might is right, and that the poor and weak deserve nothing but the suffering that inevitably comes their way.