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Canberra Today 2°/7° | Sunday, May 22, 2022 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

Actor Carroll steps up… and into his own play

Actor Christopher Samuel Carroll… busy rehearsing something a bit different for him – his own play.

TO actor Christopher Samuel Carroll, the idea of a summer holiday is but a fanciful dream.

For the Irish actor who has made his home in Canberra in recent years, constantly stunning audiences with his riveting performances, is busy rehearsing something a bit different for him – his own play.

Written during covid lockdown with the assistance of an ACT government Homefront grant and a residency at Belco Arts, “Smokescreen” isn’t an anti-smoking diatribe, but rather an intense piece of theatre, a kind of “seesaw game” between two actors that uncovers some of the darkest aspects of life in the fake-news era.

No wonder the copywriters at The Q, Queanbeyan, where the production will be staged from Australia Day, are busy promoting the show as a cross between “Mad Men” and the works of American master of dialogue, playwright David Mamet.

Originally to have featured the talents of Dene Kermond playing opposite Damon Baudin, necessity has seen Carroll himself step into the role of his protagonist Glenn, a chain-smoking oil company executive who gets talking to the younger Bud, from a tobacco company, one dark night somewhere in the unspecified midwest of America.

Why America? Because as Carroll points out that is really the epicentre of the kind of thing he’s talking about – manipulating the message, muddying the facts, techniques mastered by cigarette companies who now pass them on to fossil fuel companies and anti-science movements.

Staged in Carroll’s signature style – deceptively simple, with just a few props, some drinks and sharp lighting by newcomer Antony Hateley, a British designer with a background in shows at the Barbican and Sadler’s Wells, the emphasis will be on two actors facing off as the plot takes its inexorable course towards a dark future. 

I caught up with Carroll on a lunch break at The Q where he’s been rehearsing since just after Christmas. After this, he’ll play a role in Andrew Bovell’s play “When the Rain Stops Falling”, to be directed by Christopher Baldock at the new ACT Hub. 

But all is well, despite Kermond’s decision to pull out. Jordan Best from The Q offered him a spot as part of her plan to encourage locally-made work and talented actor Damon Baudin, for whom he wrote the part of Bud, is home from his studies at the Victorian College of the Arts. 

“Smokescreen”, Carroll says, takes place in real time in around 1977 in a hotel meeting room following a conference for company executives.

Glenn is suffering pains of conscience about the impact of the fossil fuel industry on the environment and climate change. He knows that the writing is on the wall for his industry, and needs a way around it. Sensing youthful talent, he picks the brain of the younger Bud before they take their flights home.

Glenn is Bud’s moral superior. He knows that the many legal restrictions on cigarette advertising have led to a Faustian Pact between the tobacco industry, politicians, and ironically, even individual human rights organisations reluctant to be told what to do.

After the power balance seesaws throughout the play, In the end the older man is effectively blackmailed by the younger, more clued-up Bud, who holds the power. 

At this time of the interview, it is common for the writer or actor to say, “you’ll just have to be there to find out what happens”, but Carroll at least tells me that there is a big reveal towards the end, a bitter twist as the young magician reveals his tricks in an easy, casual way – just doing his job. 

There are no dramaturgical tricks in the play, though, which Carroll views as naturalistic – it’s set in a room, drinks, tables and chairs, in a simple approach to playwriting.

“At Lecoq” he says in reference to the Jacques Lecoq School in Paris where he trained, “we were taught to focus on the body, so I prefer making offers to the audience, keeping it simple… the audience fills in the details.”

“Smokescreen”, The Q, opens its two-week season on February 3, with a preview on February 2. Book at theq.net.au

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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