Review / ‘Extraordinary physicality’ in staged Milton

Review / ”Paradise Lost,” by John Milton. Adapted by Christopher Samuel Carroll. At Belconnen Arts Centre until January 28. Reviewed by JOE WOODWARD

DESCRIBED as a “visceral one-man performance reigniting Milton’s epic masterpiece”, Carroll engages very refined and disciplined Japanese Butoh technique to enhance a reaction to Milton’s epic work.

Christopher Samuel Carroll in “Paradise Lost”. Photo by Richard Lennon

His skill in performing Butoh is of the highest international standard. When accompanying his extraordinary physicality with Milton’s very challenging words from the seventeenth century, we are witness to a culturally shattering event.

Carroll’s body produces emotion in every sinew and nuance. He conveys those compelling, yet invisible, connections with ideas, culture and belief that embody metaphor and deeper levels of communion with understanding of our very existence. The words flow over us; their complexity being such that they mesmerise us with their intensity and onomatopoeic suggestions.

Carroll uses his voice in much the same way as he uses his body to suggest more than the literal meaning of any phrase or sentence. Notions of gods and devils, heaven and hell, good and evil are literally flowing through body movement and the sound of a highly trained and intuitive voice. At times, it is as if Carroll has stepped out of a post-medieval painting by Hieronymus Bosch with all the grotesque beauty that one finds in such art.

Seeing the production in Belconnen on Australia Day, I was taken by what I was in fact experiencing. Here was an old English seminal work from over 350 years ago imbued with a Japanese performing style that is highly refined and ornate while being performed by an Irish actor.

It filled me with a sense of excitement and hope.

This is no self-conscious theatre of seeking identity or pandering to our narcissistic gravitation. Rather, it is like Strindberg’s flower in the mud; reminding us of the extreme value of harmonising our lives through experiencing the very best that different cultural traditions can bring to a moment of engagement between actor and audience.

It reminds us that our theatre can be worked at by audiences as well as by performers; that our development can be enhanced by bridging the liminal space between the act and viewer. It acquaints us with the richness of artistic struggle where artists have had to fight in order to survive and produce works that may not have endeared themselves to the dominant cultural understandings of their times.

Chris Carroll provides a very classy performance and adaptation of a classic work of literature; one that should not be missed.


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