Word, Body, Voice: Sarah St Vincent Welch reviews Bare Witness Theatre Company’s ‘Paradise Lost’.

Paradise Lost by Bare Witness Theatre Company featuring Christopher Samuel Caroll. For performance details in Perth and Adelaide please scroll down.

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Christopher Samuel Carroll in Paradise Lost (Photo:Richard Lennon)

I approached Christopher Samuel Carroll’s performance of Paradise Lost at Belconnen Arts Centre in North Canberra with great curiosity, wondering how the epic poem of Satan’s fall and the temptation of Adam and Eve could be adapted to a one hour one-man show. Its emotion, physicality, imagery, and the intelligent interpretation of John Milton’s 17th century epic poem was electrifying. How would Carroll adapt the twelve ‘books’, I had asked myself, that take about a day and night to read out loud, to just one hour? The answer was with sensitivity and love and knowledge of the text, with body and voice and an eye and ear and heart for character, drama and complexity.

In that hour Carroll transformed from Satan, to narrator, to Angels, to Adam, Eve, Serpent and God, Sin and Death, to Chaos, and conjured the intimate theatre space of Belconnen Arts Centre into the vastness of Hell, Heaven and Paradise. He flew and fell and stalked, railed and argued, persuaded and seduced, and the audience was entranced. My jaw dropped on several occasions; it was as if I had encountered the ancient tale for the first time.

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Christopher Samuel Carroll in Paradise Lost (Photo:Richard Lennon)

Butoh (a Japanese form of dance), was a way into the poem for this adaptation; Carroll is stripped off, hairless, and painted white. Butoh developed after World War II, and is iconoclastic and counter to traditional Japanese and Western forms. Aptly for this adaptation it also has a preoccupation with death and spirits. It is often grotesque and often involves transmogrification (watch out for Satan’s perusal of the creatures in Paradise and how he enters the serpent – if you manage to get to the Perth or Adelaide season – it is incredible).  There is also beauty in the depiction of the innocent Adam and Eve in Paradise, even more poignant in contrast to their grief, and there is the grandeur and wrath of God. But Satan is our protagonist, in his fallen state, soon to also be the state of humankind, and his and our own pride, jealousy and revenge are rapturously explored in this great narrative.

It is tempting to dwell on the dynamic physical qualities of Paradise Lost, but Carroll’s voice equally brings the poem to life. Rich and persuasive, Milton’s narrative and imagery soar in this performance. Carroll is Irish and his early training as an actor was with classical texts at Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College Dublin, and this is evident in his powerful, sensual rendering of this poem.  Every word and phrase is relished; their sounds, rhythms, and meanings.

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Christopher Samuel Carroll in Paradise Lost (photo: Richard Lennon)

Carroll conceived of the idea of adapting Paradise Lost five years ago, and this idea (along with the text tucked in his bag) travelled with him to Japan where he did workshops with the Tokyo-based Butoh company, Dairakudakan. Carroll also trained at Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq in Paris, which is renowned for its physical theatre and mime.

He has worked as an actor with companies all over Ireland, and writes his own original work for performance (most recently another one-man show ‘Early Grave, Fashionably Late’ was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, then Wexford Spiegeltent Festival and last year at Smiths Alternative in Canberra). He is also the Artistic Director of Bare Witness Theatre. barewitnesstheatre.com

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Christopher Samuel Carroll in Paradise Lost (photo:Richard Lennon)

 

Paradise Lost finished its season at Belconnen Arts Centre on 28 January, and was the culmination of a five-week residency. It is touring in Australia to the Fringe World Festival in Perth (31 January – 4 February) playing at the Flamingo Locomotive Engine room, and then the Adelaide Fringe Festival (16-25 February) at Henrietta’s.

I returned for another performance in Belconnen to savour the details (pleased at the reasonable ticket price that enabled me to come back for more), and to observe Satan’s story again, to listen to his plight and our own. I lingered by Lake Ginninderra afterwards for a few moments, and watched the ripples on the water, felt the hot inland wind flicker over my skin, and the deep stillness and satisfaction of experiencing a great work.

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Christopher Samuel Carroll in Paradise Lost (photo:Richard Lennon)

 

 – Sarah St Vincent Welch

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Sarah St Vincent Welch grew up swimming in Middle Harbour and now loves walking on Mt Majura. She teaches creative writing in the community. She co-edited The Pearly Griffin – the story of the old Griffin Centre with Lizz Murphy, and two short story anthologies – The Circulatory System and Time Pieces with Craig Cormick. She also co-edited FIRST: Surrender with Francesca Rendle-Short in 2007 (a student anthology at the University of Canberra). Her chapbook Open will be published by Rochford Street Press in March.

Paradise Lost ran at the Belconnen Arts Centre from 26-28 January. It will be performed in Perth at the Flaming Locomotive Engine Room, State Theatre Centre WA , Corner Roe and William Street , Northbridge from 31 January to 4th February  https://www.fringeworld.com.au/whats_on/event/paradise_lost/c30484a8-8026-4ad9-b74f-1db5a390a9c8/.It will then tour to Adelaide for a season as part of the Adelaide Fringe at Henrietta’s at The Henry Austin 29 Chesser St, Adelaide, from 16 to 25 February https://www.adelaidefringe.com.au/fringetix/paradise-lost