Review: 'One-Man Lord of the Rings' at the Pumphouse Theatre

Vicki Trask

  • Calgary Critic

I’m going to be honest I’m not a big fan of Lord of the Rings. I’m sure I’d enjoy the films but I’ve never taken the time to watch them. That’s why I brought a friend along to translate when I went to see this eccentric re-enactment on Thursday October 27th at the Pumphouse Theatre. I’m certainly glad I did – that’s a very confusing plot. Writer and Performer Charles Ross has been touring all over the globe with his one-man shows (both Lord of the Rings and Star Wars) for over a decade and it’s very clear he has a well-rehearsed routine. For an hour and a half, we as an audience got to sit and watch an actor run around an empty stage making crazy sound effects, literally fighting with himself, and offering personal asides and anecdotal humor whenever he paused to breathe.  

The man did not stop. He slowed down only when he desperately needed a drink of water (between movies, I believe). Except for those times, it was like watching a child playing in the backyard. His energy came entirely out of his imagination. He used his body to make all of the noises; from burning Ents to every sword fight, to the sound of Frodo’s whining, his voice work was incredible. Charles has a very expressive face – which is good because an empty stage and a few lighting cues were really just tools to help the story along. This one-man show was very much about one man playing in his imaginative world. 

Now, I can’t talk about the plot of Lord of the Rings for obvious reasons but I can talk about the way Charles presented his version of events. Physically, I was so impressed with his character choices and his ability to keep it going throughout the entire show – especially with all the death and destruction. Vocally, the sounds and the specific voices were mostly on point; and by that I mean they were consistent and I understood who was talking. My one problem was with diction. It’s the difference between me as an audience member not recognizing the plot, and me as an audience member not being able to understand a word the actor is saying.

That wasn’t the case in a lot of places but there were times I couldn’t distinguish the grunts and groans from the actual words. That’s where I got lost. When I say the man didn’t slow down, I meant it. I felt like he was freight-training through the plot until we reached a funny moment and then he would deliver the joke and keep going. His asides were funny, and he definitely relaxed as the show progressed so the breaks were longer and the jokes just multiplied in number. 

I was very impressed by his impressions, and stamina but my entertainment came from the stuff that wasn’t in the movies. It was the personal touch: the observations, and running jokes, and out-of-movie references. To me, that was funny. When I don’t understand the plot, I’d rather laugh than sit in confused silence. For all intents and purposes, I enjoyed my time spent in this fantasy world with Charles.

This show is the amalgamation of talent and nerdiness set on stage with a playground element of imagination and creativity. It’s fun and funny – and if you’re a Lord of the Rings nerd like my companion, I assume you’ll enjoy the jokes even more. You can catch it at the Pumphouse Theatre until October 29th.