Review By Rosie Niven
How far would you go for someone you love? Would you give up your life for them?
These are just two of the challenging questions asked in Belvoir’s newest production, Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam, a work about love, grief and morality. When the tight-knit Pollards are ripped apart by daughter Wol’s leukemia diagnosis, they’re faced with dilemmas about their hope and their faith. How could they believe in a God that would do something like this to their child?
Following an incredibly successful run at Riverside Theatres in 2018, Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam has returned to Sydney stages, and it’s easy to see why this devastating story was so well received. Mum Linda (Emma Jackson), Dad Rick (Matthew Whittet), Son Ben (Liam Nunan) and Daughter Wol (Grace Truman) seem unbreakable in their insular unit, even removing their TV to cut themselves off from the horrors of the outside world. Between singalongs and games of ‘Granny’s Underpants’, the Pollard family’s connection is joyous and unwavering. So when illness creeps into their family, and we watch this family disintegrate, we are forced to see the ugly sides of love, the harsh reality of being human. It is this love for each other that drives the narrative and captures the audience right from the start - we feel we know this family, and their loss becomes ours.
What’s most engaging about this play is its ability to walk a fine line between right and wrong, highlighting the grey areas of acceptability when it comes to grief and love. The Pollard’s aren’t painted as perfect, but they are painted as genuine, and Linda and Rick’s final sacrifice for Wol leaves you questioning the lengths you’d go to to comfort your dying loved one. This genuity can be credited to a stellar cast that have a mesmerising chemistry, supported by Valerie Bader as Grandma and Dr Evie, and Mark Lee as Grandpa and the Priest. Under the experienced eye of Director Darren Yap, the story unfolds with ease.
The only flaw with Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam is perhaps in the script, and its inability to dive deep into how Wol is coming to terms with her inevitable death. We instead focus on her brother (the story is told through flashbacks and present day meetings he has with people who knew Wol), but after a particularly striking breakdown from Wol when she doesn’t want to sleep in case she doesn’t wake up, I’m left wanting disappointed that her voice isn’t brought to the forefront. However, the characters we do focus on give us an incredible insight into the ways we cope with grief.
Impressive too is Emma Vine’s design, which plunges us deep into Wol’s imagination and creates a dreamlike space around the family home, further alienating them from the outside world. There’s something spiritual about her starry evening backdrop, which floats consistently above the Pollards even when they start to lose their faith.
Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam is a beautiful work that will simultaneously break your heart and have you banging your head against a wall trying to figure out what you would do in the impossible situation the Pollards have found themselves in. It starts slow, but once you push through the opening it’s a downhill marathon towards the final blackout, which leaves you with no resolve, much like the finality of death. Go see this play, but make sure you bring some tissues, because the grief this play inspires in you will sneak up on you when you least expect it. Incredibly beautiful, but terribly devastating.
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.