One Man Lord of the Rings
'Brave is not the word'
Charles Ross’s One Man Lord of the Rings sends the boiler-suited actor careening around the empty stage with enough vim and vigour to match the 100,000 characters he has replaced. It looks chaotic at times, but every lunge, leap and tumble is expertly timed and choreographed.
The bottle of water just off-stage that Ross grabs between ‘takes’ is obviously an essential part of the performance. Other than that his only props are a microphone, the lighting used to set the scene both chronologically and dramatically, and his body. Brave is not the word, but Ross is up to the job.
He hunches, preens and contorts himself into fair approximations of Tolkein’s hobbits, elves and orcs. Even without costumes or make-up it’s easy to tell who is who. If the shape of the character is right, if they move in the right way, the brain fills in the rest.
Ross obviously has a nerd’s passion for the Lord of the Rings. You can’t take the mickey out of something that effectively unless you really love it. He also knows what the fans found funny or odd or infuriating in the movies. Some of the jokes, therefore, are familiar fare to anyone who’s frequented Lord of the Rings message boards: Elrond as Mr Smith and Legolas primping his hair. Ross’ interpretation gives them new life, however, and has the audience in kinks.
The performance is obviously meant to be comical, but not all of the time. A particular favourite is Ross's slightly off-centre Aragon who mutters, with increasing paranoia, about people ‘knowing his name’. But somehow Ross manages to evoke pathos and terror as well. Partially, of course, because he is summoning up emotional echoes from the movies and books. Among hard-core Lord of the Rings fans it would be hard to not conjure a sniffle or two at Boromir’s death.
Ross's physical commitment to the story drags the audience into the moment with him. His Shelob should be ridiculous, and is, yet it is still spidery enough to send an atavistic shudder down the spine. The death of Denethor is another surprise, with Ross’s shocked, empty face giving the Steward of Gondor an almost brutal poignancy.
Before the heart can more than give a little hitch, however, Ross is back to mugging and riding imaginary horses across the stage. Or undermining one particularly pathos-driven scene – Samwise Gamgee mourning Frodo – by reminding the audience that keening isn’t glamorous.
The story ends, the stage goes dark and the audience is… dead silent. After a moment Ross re-appears on stage looking just a little worried. He needn't be. Once the audience is sure the show is over the house comes down.
One Man Lord of the Rings is a frenetic outburst of a performance, the sheer energy of which never quite obscures how exquisitely, and deceptively, controlled Ross is on stage. It is well worth going to see – although you probably should google the details first if you are a neophyte to the world. Plus, a percentage of the earnings from the show go to the Lord of the Rings franchise. So by going you might be bringing production of The Hobbit that little bit closer. Here's hoping.