Arts / A man of few and many words

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IRISH actor Christopher Samuel Carroll, now living in the ACT, is one of the busiest artists in town.

I spoke to him by phone to Perth, where he’d been performing his newest production “Icarus” at the Fringe World Festival and he was just about to get on a flight back to rehearsals for “Twelfth Night” in Canberra.

Carroll is playing the plum role of Malvolio for “Shakespeare by the Lakes”.

“It’s a great part, which I’ve always wanted to play; I’m looking forward to digging my teeth in,” he says in the lilt that has endeared him to Canberra audiences and critics in one-man shows such as his adaptation of “Paradise Lost” and “Early Grave, Fashionably Late”, his homage to the Victorian world.

“I’ve been doing a lot of rehearsals over the last few weeks and I’m not unduly stressed.
Somehow, he’ll fit in a four-night season of “Icarus” in Canberra at The Street Theatre, too.

The story is having been warned by his father Daedalus not to fly too close to the sun on his waxen wings, Icarus falls to his doom. Sure, Carroll says, it is in part a cautionary tale about the need for temperance, but much more enticingly he believes, “we all relate to the notion of aspiration, free flight and abandon – we can all imagine the lure of flying close to the sun. I don’t think anyone would judge Icarus too harshly.”

The image of flight, he says is one that has recurred in his work, along with that of the fallen angel Lucifer, another symbol of excessive striving.

“But it’s really just a reference point rather than delving into a Greek myth,” he says.

“It’s a modern story about an ordinary man and every man whose life is thrown into turmoil and he looks for a means of escape.”

Sounds like the tale of a refugee. In fact it is based on the true story of a refugee who stowed away in the landing gear of a plane before falling to his death on a street in a quiet and unassuming London suburb.

Already worked over during 2018 as part of The Street Theatre’s “First Seen” dramaturgical initiative, it was pitched to The Street’s Caroline Stacey as a play with no words but lots of ideas.

“I had a clear idea of the story and ‘First Seen’ gave me an opportunity to get in a solid week’s work in the studio, especially on the sound design with Kimmo Vennonen and lighting design with Jed Buchanan,” he says.

“It’s just me on the stage, but then on the other hand Kimmo’s soundscape acts to set the atmosphere and the mood of the character.”

But a play with no words?

“I still deal with language because I’m in ‘Twelfth Night’, using language quite intensively, but everything I do must be physically and bodily alive,” he says.

“I trained classically in Dublin and was very fixed on text, but later I trained at Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris and learnt the force of the body, although I’ve never done a piece like this where I’ve stripped away the text altogether.”

The character is universal, relatable to real people, and he uses mime to flesh things out, simple movements show him at home, playing video games, feeding his cat and going to the supermarket, then getting mixed up in a civil war and being forced to leave home to survive.

The character goes on an epic journey, you can see him in the back of the van, can hear Vennonen’s soundscape of clucking chickens, footsteps and clanking at the border checkpoints. Later, he’s travelling by boat, crammed in with countless other people suffocating.

“The empty stage offers the freedom to go anywhere at any moment, with dynamic scene changes… I might be in a storm bailing out water from a boat, and there are no costumes, either – it’s complete freedom,” he says.

He is keen to assure us that “Icarus” is often funny, saying: “I know it sounds heavy, but it’s very comic and light.

“I want to change the way people think about people labelled as refugees.

“To me the use of slapstick is important in humanising this character, and remember, humour comes out of the most extreme circumstances.”

Christopher has just been named the overall winner of the award for for dance and physical theatre at the 2019 Perth’s  “Fringe World” festival, where he recently appeared, for his play, “Icarus”.

“Icarus”, The Street Theatre, February 27-March 3. Book at thestreet.org.au or 6247 1223.

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