Erudite, eloquent and deliciously fast and funny
By Joana Simmons
Wax your moustaches and tighten your bowties, the dandiest and most daring storyteller has made his way across shores, through jungles and fantastical places to grace The Butterfly Club for one week only. Early Grave, Fashionably Late is a rollicking, rousing, intellectual one-man show set in the Victorian era – a time of tweed and all things twee. Writer-performer Christopher Samuel Carroll is Bennet Cooper Sullivan; fearless explorer, raconteur a charming gentleman, a reluctant detective. He creates a wondrous world with the most colorfully-crafted language I have heard in a while: it’s almost word-porn.
Opening with an epic adventure soundtrack and an equally epic moustache, Carroll’s experience as a physical performer is clearly defined. The wordy beginning is not for the slow-witted, so make sure you are on the ball and ready to roll with it as the words drip off his tongue like the smoothest cognac. The ever-so-charming Bennet Cooper Sullivan passes his business card to the ladies in the audience and tells us he is a man of the world, having been to lost civilizations and secret passages, and wound up in Dublin, 1889, where our story takes place. We are darted from word to world, memory to moment, guided by Carroll’s energetic and expressive storytelling and physicality. The plot thickens, amusing asides and witty one-liners leave us in laughter and keep us on the edge of our seats. Without giving too much away, there is blackmail, adultery, murder, lions, cigars and a hilariously mimed penny-farthing chase. Carroll’s finesse is like I’ve never seen and this show is truly classy comedy. Tongue-in-cheek moments abound, but it is so refreshing to see that the art form of wit and fabulous writing is still alive.
It takes a lot of skill to turn a bare stage into a wonderful world and hold an audience’s attention for just less than an hour. The lighting did a wonderful job in transporting us into dens, parks and underwater. I think sound could have taken the show to another dimension – Carroll’s language and physicality did a lot, but sounds like wind in the trees or the hustle of a Dublin cock-fight could make it a full sensory experience. Similarly, Bennet Cooper Sullivan looked delightfully dapper in a three-piece tweed suit; though some more finery such as pocket watch, a real journal instead of a mimed one and perhaps some more ‘things’ onstage, could help give the look of the show extra polish: plus, a handkerchief wouldn’t have gone astray on a scorching Tuesday like the one upon which the show opened.
I am astonished by the amount of work that Carroll has invested to give the characters so much depth and deliver such a wordy script at such a high intensity and maintained throughout the show. I do feel there could have been more time for pauses and breath however, for us the audience to digest (as most monologues are certainly meaty) and for Carroll to give more dynamic and variety in his delivery. That being said, the story structure itself was flawless.
Any fans of Oscar Wilde, Sherlock Holmes, or even Stephen Fry will delight and gush at this show. Writers, readers and story-believers: those who are sick of the song-story-song-story-joke-song-story one-person shows must get along to this fresh and fascinating creation spit-spot. There’s a show in Canberra on Dec 20th, and Early Grave, Fashionably Late on in Melbourne till Saturday. Book now.
Dates: 13 – 17 December
Venue: The Butterfly Club, 5 Carson Place, Melbourne