Adapted and performed by Christopher Samuel Carroll. Bare Witness Theatre Company. Belconnen Arts Centre. January 26-28 2017.
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
|Christopher Samuel Carroll in Paradise Lost. Photo by Richard Lennon|
Christopher Samuel Carroll is the master of the solo performance. His recent performance at Smith’s Bookshop introduced audiences to Victorian cartographer, adventurer and raconteur Benedict Cooper Sullivan. For his latest venture into the challenging and often confronting realm of solo theatrical performance, Carroll mounts the gargantuan task of adapting John Milton’s epic seventeenth century masterpiece, Paradise Lost. Written in twelve books of blank verse, Milton’s monumental poem traces the story of Lucifer’s fall from grace into Chaos, his summoning of the legions of fallen angels to wage war upon God, and his eventual vengeful seduction of Eve culminating in the eviction of Adam and Eve from their lost Paradise in the Garden of Eden.
In a performance lasting a mere hour, Carroll’s remarkable talent shines through. Alone on the stage, dressed only in a loin cloth to mask his genitals and with shaven head, Carroll assumes the essence of Butoh to strip bare all vestige of the civilized being and render homage to the rolling language of Milton’s mesmerizing verse. As he recounts the events of Satan’s quest for initial redemption and ultimate revenge, lithe sinews contort, twist and turn, conjuring characters and transforming the verse into the skilful utterance of the poem’s biblical characters. The art of Butoh, born of Japan’s struggle for identity, following the occupation of Macarthur in the wake of the nation’s terrible defeat, reveals the struggle to overcome oppression. Daubed in a chalk-white body wash, the sinewy limbs soar like threatening gargoyles of the air or slither serpentine . Limbs twist into the luring temptation of Satan’s silvery tongue or sensually descend with lustful guile. The dance of Butoh inhabits the domain of Satan’s evil intent in a performance that is as beguiling and mesmerizing as the epic grandeur of Milton’s swelling tale of Paradise Lost.
Only a couple of metres away from Carroll in the intimate performance space of the Belconnen Arts Centre, I am lured into the sonorous sound and shifting rhythms of Milton’s ambitious verse. It rolls over me in waves of sound breathing forth from Satan’s malevolent heart, sometimes, sweet and innocent, often devious and sinister , laden with corrupt intent, disguised with tempting allure and then ascending to monstrous threat. Carroll has me in his thrall, the masterful performer, weaving his adaptation with variation and changing emotion. Butoh, the Dance of Darkness and Transformation fuses with Milton’s glorious design to “justify the ways of God to Man” and both display the moral virtue of all time to battle the evil that possesses all mankind.
|Christopher Samual Carroll as Satan in Paradise Lost. Photo by Richard Lennon|
Carroll’s training in mime, movement and mask at Ecole Jaques Lecoq in Paris and his work with a Butoh company is evident in a performance that transcends the conventional or mundane. It is the powerful artistry of the professional that revives the marvel of Milton’s epic work. Naturally, it cannot hope to encompass all twelve books of Paradise Lost. What it does is lend voice to the blind poet across the centuries and introduce audiences once more to one of the greatest works every written in the English language. Combining Milton’s eloquence, theme and rolling verse with the stark and vulnerable muscularity of Butoh merges time and universality, leaving an audience not with the detail of a story that passes in a wave of sound and movement, but a sense of humanity’s vulnerability and evel’s powerful influence that reaches towards faith for confirmation of all that is good and everything that is evil. One leaves Carroll’s adaptation with an affirmation of goodness, a moral as true as Time itself.
The shifting episodes of this epic tale and the transformation of character and emotion are highlighted by Gillian Schwab’s superb lighting changes, at times bathing Satan in a celestial light or casting Carroll into the bleak and dangerous shadows of desire and dire intent. I was expecting, after the gentle introductory music that led us into the theatre in the footsteps of an usher, in Japanese gard and moving with Noh-like slowness more use of music to accompany the different events of Carroll’s daptation. Only his voice and movement told the tale of Satan’s version of events. The lack of musical accompaniment did not detract from an absorbing and original interpretation, but it may have heightened engagement with the power of the changing episodes.
That aside, Carroll’s performance is a tour de force display of the actor’s craft, physically absorbing, vocally engaging, emotionally exciting and creatively innovative. As Belconnen Arts centre’s inaugural artist-in-residence for 2017, Carroll bring s to the theatrical tapestry of our city a rare opportunity to see a masterful performer present a monumental work of English Literature in a style that compels attention.
Carroll will be taking Paradise Lost to the Perth Fringe World Festival and the Adelaide Fringe Festival. I strongly urge a return Canberra Season so that all passionate theatre lovers and practitioners can witness this extraordinary and original performance.