Review by Cicely Binford
John Milton’s Paradise Lost was first published 350 years ago, and Bare Witness Theatre presented its first stage adaptation of the work 5 years ago. Performer Christopher Samuel Carroll brought the adaptation to Fringe World last week, and showed us that a 350-year-old epic poem adapted for the stage isn’t a museum piece; in the right hands it comes alive and fascinates, even amidst the frivolity of Fringe.
The first astonishing thing we remark about the piece is the text itself. Condensing thousands of lines of text into a 55-minute piece must have been arduous, to say the least. Carroll has grabbed the best-known parts of the story, and performs all the parts himself. Covered in white paint from head to toe, with only a g-string to cover the areas that Adam learned to be ashamed of, Carroll transforms from a veritable marble statue into each subsequent creature or figure that inhabits the tale.
He spreads his arms wide and becomes the fallen angel, he slinks to the ground and forces himself into the body of the snake; he moves with a fluid precision where no movement wasted or tossed aside. His command of the language is impressive, with resonant voice that remains steady as a rock, even as he contorts into other forms.
Paradise Lost is an unusual piece to experience during the whirlwind of Fringe World, where you often get a quick fix of something au courant and trendy, then move on to the next show. The piece is a shock to the system; it forces us to use all our mental faculties to process the language and the movement, and it demands that we also use our imaginations to embellish the picture as we see fit.
Perhaps more importantly, it asks us to think about the endurance of this Biblical origin story, to ponder the ways in which its facets are still embedded in our culture, and the ways in which we, like its central characters, have rebelled against it. Carroll’s performance compels us to sit up and pay close attention, and though he asks for a little bit more work from us, he offers us considerable reward.
Paradise Lost will be touring to Adelaide Fringe from 16-25 February, now that its Perth run has finished. For more information and tickets for the Adelaide run, visit here.