The Santa Casa of Loreto, the holy house of the Virgin Mary and the site of the annunciation, is said to have been carried by the angels from Nazareth to its current location in Italy in the thirteenth century (with a brief stop-off in Croatia along the way). It’s now felt fit to flit again, crashing–landing in Sam’s living room. This sudden intrusion of masonry and timber is most unwelcome, breaking the plasma-screen and trapping his parents in their bedroom, but Sam, pudgy and jobless, starts to think of it as a sign, a miracle, a spur. The ill-defined thing he was waiting for has arrived. Sam knows his life is finally about to begin. “When the holy house comes into your house you need to let it happen.”
Mark Thomson’s play, a Royal Lyceum production, takes the form of a series of encounters. As Sam goes out into his world in search of meaning he meets a series of people: a couple of mouthy, aggressive track-suited kids in the park, a harried business woman fresh from a listening skills workshop (that doesn’t appear to have been all that successful), Sam’s ailing, bigoted Granddad, a dentist more menacing than the one in Little Shop of Horrors and a flattened cat. Most of these encounters are unsettling and unpleasant. Sam’s girlfriend dumps him and the kids taunt him and tag him as a ‘paedo’ on Facebook. No one seems to acknowledge the change, the call, which Sam has felt; no one seems to see how his world has changed for ever. They’re all too wrapped up in their own worlds; they fail to understand that a miracle has occurred and their lives roll on as before.
A thread of skewed Biblical imagery runs through the play. There are scenes of bathing and cleansing – Sam bathes his blind grandfather’s eyes and a church cleaning woman anoints Sam with her sponge. Thomson plays with the idea of a malevolent presence behind the holy house’s arrival, and one starts to feel the stage is being set for an Exorcist style duke-out between good and evil, a battle for Sam’s soul. But in the end the play is more prosaic than that – a squashed cat in a bag is, in the end, just a sticky, furry mess – and the play remains firmly fixed in a hostile and miracle-free world.
Grant O’Rourke is an endearing, if by necessity not entirely charming, central presence as Sam and he’s strongly supported by Liam Brennan and Molly Innes who share the remaining male and female roles between them. There is a Beckettian quality to the some of the writing, in the way Sam’s parents’ voices echo from their brick prison and in the growing realisation that change will not be forthcoming: that this, inescapably, is it. But this has a knock-on effect, the episodic nature of the narrative, the intentional lack of progression, soon starts to become wearing and the production eventually starts to grind down in its audience just as life grinds down Sam.