The Stranger (L’Étranger) by Albert Camus, adapted for stage by Christopher Samuel Carroll. Bare Witness Theatre Company at Ralph Wilson Theatre, Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra, December 8-11 and 16-17, 2021.
Reviewed by Frank McKone
Performer: Christopher Samuel Carroll
Designer: Gillian Schwab
Music: Olivia Graham
Operator: Rachel Pengilly
Promotional Photography: Novel Photographic
Production Stills: Andrew Sikorski
|Christopher Samuel Carroll as Meursault
in The Stranger by Albert Camus
As a psychological study of an alienated young man, Meursault, I prefer the French title L’Étranger to be translated as The Outsider. In court on trial for what could be judged as an accidental murder, the prosecutor describes Meursault as an abomination, thrusting the words at the jury – “un abîme menaçant d'engloutir la société” – “a menacing abyss about to swallow society”.
But Meursault, as he often says, is not a stranger. He is just like the rest of us – capable of standing mentally to one side to protect ourselves from taking action which requires accepting responsibility. Camus’ 1957 story was more prescient than he could ever have known, when we consider the populist politics of today. Meursault didn’t intend to kill the unnamed stranger, the Arab, in French colonial Algiers; just as, for example, Kevin Rudd didn’t intend to cause the deaths of refugees when he announced that no asylum seeker who arrived by boat would ever be allowed to stay in Australia.
In his day, Meursault, is forced to plead guilty (after all it was true he killed a man), and is guillotined. Rudd lost an election to Abbott, Turnbull, Morrison and Dutton: no-one has pleaded guilty for the deaths and trauma in off-shore detention or even when finally brought onshore under the short-lived medivac legislation.
So the first thing to say about Christopher Samuel Carroll is that his presentation of this work in Canberra, the nation’s capital, is important for us to see. It is so much more than an interesting look back at French absurdism and existentialist philosophy in an academic light; it’s about our own abîme menaçant swallowing our society today. [If you would like an academic read, in French, go to “Albert Camus et L'Absurdité de la Vie” at http://mabdaa.edu.iq/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/36-Albert-Camus-et-LAbsurdit%C3%A9-de-la-Vie.pdf ]
The next thing to say is that the simple in-the-round intimate theatre design, in which Meursault tells us his story, in changing levels of light and dark, engages us directly, not only in the story – as reading the novel does – but even more in the emotions we feel in response. When reading the novel, I found I could stand off to the side and become involved in intellectual matters, like should the justice system have been more empathetic to the young man when his alienation was caused by a cold society in the first place; and certainly should the death penalty have been abolished, as it now has been increasingly around the world.
If reading the book as I did when it was first translated helped make me support Amnesty International on intellectual grounds, Carroll’s telling of the story as Meursault makes me feel with and for him – and helps me understand him.
This can only happen because Carroll’s acting skills are exemplary – played straight, from the inside of his being. This is the quality which I think of as ‘pure’ acting.
I’m pleased to see the short season has already been extended, and I trust that Bare Witness can take The Stranger further afield.