Words cannot quite describe the experience of watching Oliver Roberts’ new play, Sampi, at the Burton Taylor Studio. It is marketed as a comedy, and by God, it did not disappoint. Whether that was a combination of a certain complicity and sense of camaraderie between cast and audience, or even the fact that the cast, on occasion, themselves succumbed to the hilarity of the situations they were acting out, Sampi will have you smirking to yourself if not outright laughing out loud.
Sampi follows some hours in the lives of Hayley, Sara and Nat on the occasion of Nat’s 22nd birthday. The layout of the BT Studio allows for a wholly immersive experience, while the cast and Roberts’ direction guarantees a night of authentic nostalgia for those nights with friends that can only be described as verging on farce. How else would we encounter the word “sampi”, an archaic letter of the Greek alphabet, in an awkward and forced conversation about the characters’ favourite letters?
Indeed, the trio’s complicated dynamic is foregrounded from the start along with their almost absurd defining features: blood, llamas and a chicken burger. As crazed as this introduction may seem, Sampi really embodies how to execute a modern-day comedy well.
From the ever-comical portrayal of a 22-year-old’s pseudo-intellectual existential dread, to the extremely pertinent commenting on llamas (a staple of Oxford’s mental health weeks), Sampi will defy any expectations you may have. I, for one, never expected to hear the words ‘I feel like you would have had nice eyes in another life’ spoken with such earnestness to a chicken burger (which is potentially a reincarnated spirit). Nor did I predict the Spotify-inspired ‘all out of skips?’ voiceover during an interval that left the whole theatre simultaneously stunned and in hysterics.
Sampi reveals the inherent selfishness of youth (albeit exaggerated) in strained relationships, but also raises points for later reflection, not limited to how to navigate friendships as they progress from a university setting to the real world and the difficulties of getting a job. It will equally have you paranoidly questioning just how many charities are either cults, pyramid schemes, or both.
It is sure to warm your heart in Oxford’s newfound bitter cold, remind you of bygone bitternesses once shared in formerly chaotic friendships, and paint your week two evening with a welcome chaos far from the clutches of impending deadlines and university pressures. Its run ends 21 October; tickets available here.