How do you take a Cornwall teen fiction hero and transplant him into rural Australia? With great sensitivity and canny casting. In emerging Perth actor Samuel Ireland, the ABC found its Australian Itchingham Lofte, the insecure chemistry nerd of British radio presenter Simon Mayo’s geological adventure novels, for the television adaptation of Itch.
At 22, and a chemistry nut himself, Ireland isn’t too long out of high school to remember the brutality of quadrangle politics, and the cost of being different.
“I share a bunch of qualities with Itch,” says Ireland. “Itch knows that he’s smart but he also wishes he could be a lot smoother. At the beginning of my high schooling, I was very fearfully individual. I didn’t know how to not get picked on. The first time I had a chemistry class in year seven, the teacher did an icebreaker and everyone had to say something they like.
“Everyone was saying normal things like, ‘I like footy,’ and I remember thinking, ‘Oh this is great, they’ll all love this …’ and I said, ‘I like writing comedy books’. People kept coming up to me after that and saying, ‘Oh, you’re the guy who likes writing comedy books’. In my year seven brain, I was like, ‘Yes, well done Sam, you’ve said something cool and memorable’, and now I look back and see everyone was making fun of me.”
As Itch, a 14-year-old bent on collecting every element on the periodic table, Samuel transmits that adolescent awkwardness that makes him an easy target for the school bully. The story quickly grows into something much bigger, with Itch’s discovery of a mysterious radioactive rock containing a new element with vast clean energy potential. As the requisite band of four friends forms around Itch, ethical dilemmas come into play.
“This rock could potentially solve a lot of the world’s problems but then on the opposite side of things, it could also be weaponised or used to make unclean nuclear power. If Itch gives it to [an ominous corporation], it might destroy the world even faster and he’s caught in this moral conflict.”
Having grown up aware of climate change, but under the impression the adults were taking care of it, Ireland is – like many of his peers – furious and afraid.
“My generation is feeling the pressure. Especially with the bushfires in Australia right now, it’s an issue that’s really relevant. It’s scary. We’re uncertain about what the future is going to look like and we feel a lot of responsibility for trying to fix that in time and give our species longevity.”
He hopes that, along with a gripping story, Itch will help thrash out this issue for its target audience and offer hope for young outsiders.
“Itch cops bullying because he is unafraid to be himself in public. He doesn’t capitulate to the status quo. The more the series goes on and the more Itch is able to use the best parts of himself to solve problems and be this beacon for championing intellect and individuality, the more respect he gains from his peers,” says Ireland.