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Carroll’s script smoulders behind the ‘Smokescreen’

Damon Baudin, left, and Christopher Samuel Carroll in “Smokescreen”. Photo: Cathy Breen

Theatre / “Smokescreen”. Written and directed by Christopher Samuel Carroll. At The Q until February 5. Reviewed by JOE WOODWARD. 

CHRISTOPHER Samuel Carroll has become strongly associated with highly intelligent theatre and this work lives up to that reputation. 

In this production, Carroll joins Damon Baudin on stage in a detailed interplay of ideas concerning the role of public relations and marketing in social manipulation. 

The propaganda work of Edward Bernays is referenced in relation to the ways in which opinion can be swayed in less obvious forms. Two characters from the carbon-related and smoking industries have a dialectical argument concerning strategies for continuing their very negative participation in promoting their industries. 

This dialectical theatre is incisive and challenging. It demands an inquisitive and engaged audience who follow the irritating and canny arguments being put forward by the ad men. 

The play, in some ways, considers a more incisive and finely tuned view to that seen in the movie “Don’t Look Up”; except it details the underpinning manipulations that give rise to the absurdities seen in the movie. 

Carroll’s text is sharp and very direct. There is argument, proposition, counter-argument and doubt being countered by smug certainties. The work demands a very high level of vocal dexterity and mastery of language. 

Baudin’s extraordinary grasp of the material makes his propositions seem so logical yet damaging. Carroll’s portrayal of doubt and vulnerability provides a counter to the antagonistic certainty of Baudin. 

The scope of the issues in the play places demands on the audience to consider what is being held up for scrutiny. The subtle physical nuances within the production’s blocking and each character’s demeanour suggests a sense of inevitability that makes rational opposition very difficult. 

An oddity of the work is the setting of the time period. While not stated, it appears to be set in the late ’70s gauging by the costumes and references to World War II and the Cuban Missile Crisis. We are left to ponder how the results of the arguments have played out over the following 40 or so years. This is left for the audience.

“Smokescreen” is a most engaging and thought-provoking work performed by highly skilled actors with clarity. It is a work that should be seen widely and that might easily be toured for national audiences. Perhaps a discussion paper might follow detailing some of the research and observations included in the play’s content.

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