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Christopher Samuel Carroll
Christopher Samuel Carroll is an Irish theatre-artist based in Canberra, trained at The Samuel Beckett Centre, Trinity College Dublin, and Ecole Internationale du Theatre Jacques Lecoq, Paris. As an actor, he has worked with companies all over Ireland, and as artistic director of Bare Witness Theatre Company, creates physical theatre in ensembles and as a solo performer. Described as “the master of the solo performance”(Canberra Critics’ Circle), Christopher has built a reputation as a daring and skilled creator of original one-man shows.
His Victorian blockbuster, Early Grave, Fashionably Late, sold out at Smith’s Alternative in Canberra after a run at The Butterfly Club in Melbourne as part of their curated summer program in December 2016. His Butoh adaptation of Paradise Lost, described as “a culturally shattering event” (City News), was developed during a five-week residency at Belconnen Arts Centre, before touring to the Adelaide Fringe and then to Perth, where it was nominated for The West Australian Arts Editor Award and shortlisted for the Best Theatre award at Fringe World 2017.
Since quitting the Boulevards and the bistros of Paris for the understated charms of Canberra - a move inspired by his romantic (and frankly, rather needy) attachment to a Canberran girl, who stole his heart, and hid his return plane ticket - he has appeared regularly at Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres, The Canberra Theatre Centre, and The Street Theatre, most recently in their double-bill of War of the Worlds and Tourmaline in July 2018. His latest imaginative leap of physical storytelling, Icarus, debuted at The Blue Room Theatre in Perth in January, and will run at The Street Theatre in Canberra from the 27 February - 3 March 2019. (barewitnesstheatre.com)
When I was 14 or so, an extra-curricular drama group emerged at my school among the older students, led by a Business Studies teacher who had actually trained as an actor with quite a prestigious Dublin theatre company. They did King Lear as their first production, with a chap called Domhnall Gleeson playing the Fool. I had had little or no exposure to theatre up until then, but I was all of a sudden spellbound. Eager to throw myself into just about everything that didn’t involve actual schoolwork, I determined to get involved the following year. I got a small role in Death of a Salesman, and the year after, played Macbeth. From the very beginning, I was drawn to those heightened life-or-death moments, of those formidable characters grappling with their own destiny. I think as a romantic, tempest-tossed 14-year-old, it all felt far too relevant. There are still words from Macbeth that rise, mysteriously to my lips at moments of great consequence - as if only words that great can express the force of worlds colliding within me.
Subsequently, in my training as an actor at Trinity College Dublin, my voice teacher always held to the principle that if you’re going to work with text, you may as well work with the best - so we spent a LOT of time working on Shakespearean monologues and sonnets, where I had the chance to develop a really deep appreciation of the language. It’s a feast, to be felt in the mouth, impelled by the breath, lived in body and soul. I played Polixines in a production of A Winter’s Tale while still at University, but other than playing Claudius in a production of Heiner Muller’s Hamletmachine, I hadn’t had the opportunity to do anything of that ilk for the best part of a decade.
I ended up pursuing a more physical style of theatre in my work, which is by no means incompatible with Shakespeare, but as an actor tends to bring you into different circles. Really out of a longing for that rich, challenging, poetic language, I took it upon myself to adapt John Milton’s Paradise Lost for the stage, in a one-man show I performed at Belconnen Arts Centre in 2017, before taking it to Perth and Adelaide. In late 2018, while back in my native Ireland, I was rather miraculously cast in a production of Romeo and Juliet - as Romeo no less! - which has fully re-initiated me into the Elizabethan world.
ON SHAKESPEARE BY THE LAKES
While Shakespeare’s work can be daunting, and oftentimes the preserve of academics, it was born into existence in a very rough-and-tumble world of Elizabethan theatre, that was for the most part, an outdoor spectacle, competing with bear-baiting and public executions for audiences’ attentions. While Shakespeare was the great genius of our art, it is a humble art nonetheless; his characters don’t require reverence or solemnity, they are big and bold enough to grab ahold of an audience in even the rowdiest of inn-yards: to thrill, surprise, and delight as the best entertainment does. Shakespeare’s characters, especially in the comedies, owe much to the street-theatre tradition of the Commedia dell’Arte. There are buffoons, drunkards, clowns, rogues, fops, divas, all of whom are really so much larger-than-life, a theatre can barely hold them.
One of the most thrilling experiences I ever had in a theatre was at The Globe, seeing Roger Allam front a superb cast in The Tempest. It was the bleak mid-winter, and I was stood in the stalls, wrapped in every item of clothing I had to hand for the three hours of the show. And yet, the performance was so enchanting, so vibrant, that it was only after Prospero had finished his final speech under softly-tumbling snow, that I realised how numb my feet were. I’ve occasionally performed outdoors myself - once in an ancient Roman amphitheatre, which definitely has the effect of reconnecting the actor’s work to the elemental forces of nature. I also worked as a tour guide in Dublin and Paris for many years, which is a 3-hour one-man street-theatre show in itself!
I think it’s terrific to take Theatre out of the theatres, which can too often be guilty of being exclusive places. That it’s free, and will travel to several locations around Canberra, will give people an opportunity to try something that might otherwise feel out of reach, as well as hopefully rewarding the Shakespeare aficionados of our fine town. Twelfth Night was the first of Shakespeare’s plays I saw by a professional company, and it just so happened to be an outrageously good production - all in Russian! I can promise you, if I could not only grasp, but be transported by that experience, you’ll have no trouble connecting with our Elizabethan English!
ON YOUR CHARACTER: MALVOLIO
Malvolio’s story in Twelfth Night is the rather dark and unexpected sub-plot of an otherwise classic romantic comedy. Of course, Shakespeare being Shakespeare, the sub-plot becomes a whole drama in its own right. In the opening few scenes, Malvolio appears to be just a minor character: a loyal, if fastidious, servant to the Lady Olivia. He is the counterpoint to the drunken revelry of Sir Toby, but is constrained, in his position as one of the lower-class, from really doing anything more than making snide remarks, or threatening to wield an authority from Olivia that he may or may not have. And that’s perhaps where his story would end - except, he has a fatal weakness that throws his tightly-wound world into chaos: ambition.
We get the impression that Malvolio is a self-made man, steadfast, with impeccable standards. But in an era where the only hope of social mobility was to “marry above one’s station,” he is condemned to remain an underling, subordinate to the thuggish ‘nobility’ of the likes of Sir Toby. In Malvolio’s mind, he should be a Count or a Duke, but can only fantasise about the improbable day when Olivia will somehow, without any inkling, fall in love with him.
This temerity of Malvolio’s, to get above his station, is justification enough for Sir Toby and his cohorts to unleash a cruel and convoluted prank on him, manipulating his repressed emotional vulnerability (and in truth, his desperate innocence) to snare him. In the class-hierarchy of Elizabethan society, tall poppies will be cut down.
Malvolio is the straightest of straight men - his great crime is that he has absolutely no sense of humour, nor a glimmer of irony. He is so “sick of self-love” that he cannot doubt the unbelievable circumstance of Olivia’s letter. He never once questions its validity, never suspects that he’s being trussed up like a turkey, and not only that, he then acts upon it with a wild abandon, unleashing the arrogance, contempt and bitter hostility that has been festering in him all this time.
Malvolio is the ultimate lesson in gullibility: if something appears too good to be true, it probably is - and will doubtless end up in heartbreak, imprisonment, and public humiliation, dressed in yellow stockings. At least he’s got the legs for it...
When I’m not acting in other people’s plays, I tend to keep myself busy creating and performing one-man shows, which, while satisfying in a tyrannically monomaniacal way, can be a bit lonesome. The great pleasure of being involved in this production has been being part of a great ensemble, where I’ve had ample time to sit and watch other actors do wonderful work.
We’ve all rehearsed our different scenes away from each other, so it was such a treat when we did our first run-through, and got to see all these other moments of the play for the first time. Seeing the whole piece take shape, I was struck by how touching the emotional moments of the play are; so much the story rattles along in madcap comedy, that the sincere, tender moments catch you by surprise. I think with this production, I re-learned how effective comedy can be in communicating deep emotion - almost as if the laughter and jollity cracks the shell of our isolation, and opens us up to a greater empathy.
ON TWELFTH NIGHT
There is still something enduringly true in this story about the madness of love; its consuming fire, folly, fickleness and drunken vanity. The idea of there being one person out there who will complete you, solve all your problems and magic away your neuroses, is still very relevant. We continually make bad choices out of a desire to be accepted by someone else, rather than learn to accept ourselves, and very often, fail to grasp what will actually stand a chance of making us happy because we’re held back by our ideas of who we’re supposed to be. Thankfully, in the plot of a romantic comedy, all these human flaws become deliciously entertaining.