Feeling the force alone

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 November, 2009, 12:00am

Without the buzzing light sabres, giant space warships and digitally-mastered planet habitats that the Star Wars series is known for, Canadian actor Charles Ross condenses the movies' sci-fi world into a one-man stage show, literally with his bare hands.

In his interpretation of the well-known movies, Ross impersonates 40 characters without props, costumes or special effects. This week, Ross is bringing One Man Star Wars Trilogy to Hong Kong for the first time, after performing in more than 180 cities around the world since its premiere in Toronto in 2001.

The actor gets rid of all of the film's famous visual and sound effects, instead telling the stories through facial expressions, vocal impersonations, a hummed soundtrack, gestures and movements.

His performance fits the three original episodes - A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of Jedi, a good 300-odd minutes of film - into a fast-paced, one-hour show.

Ross' idea is to combine the most distinctive features of the characters, who form part of a collective memory for so many people who, like the actor himself, watched them as a child.

'When [the audience] see me, they laugh because many of [them] have seen the movies before,' he says.

Ross' love of Star Wars started when he watched the first of the films in his local cinema aged 10. He was fascinated by the adventures of protagonist Luke Skywalker, and realised he had something in common with the space knight.

'I lived on a small, remote farm in North Canada, like Luke, who is from the middle of nowhere. Through a series of circumstances that he doesn't have much control over, he is whisked into adventures and finds that the fate of the whole galaxy hinges on him.

'This story appeals to every little kid, and I still find it fascinating,' he says.

Ross retells the hero's story using rather primitive devices. Other than black clothes, all he needs is his script, which combines the most well known lines into one plot, and packs in the jokes so even if they haven't seen the original movies, people can follow it. Ross has watched the films so many times he just sat down at a computer, typing the classic lines from memory into his script.

Although a one-man show means he has to speak everybody's lines and act out everybody's movements, Ross sees this as fun rather than a burden.

'My show is just extremely portable. I don't need a costume, other than black clothes. I do have a microphone. But aside from that, nothing. Just me,' he says. 'And it's great, because this show is made to tour.'

'If you start with costumes and sets, it just opens up a whole world of hurt,' he adds. 'Once you start down that path, it will dominate your destiny forever.'

In some cases, Ross uses his hands to represent a character's features. For example, he cups his hands over his ears to show Princess Leia's signature 'earmuffs' hairstyle, and puts his hands over his eyes to suggest Admiral Ackbar's distinctive eyes.

But for characters like R2-D2 and Chewbacca, Ross sticks to using his voice, sounding eerily identical to the real deal.

If you think the show sounds nerdy, you're right: Ross is passionate about the films. Besides, this infatuation has led to a global success story and he is proud of his geekiness.

'Yes, it is a geek show,' he says. 'Part of being a geek, in my mind, is actually loving something so much, being so unabashedly in love with it, in a way that it opens yourself up to ridicule.'

One-Man Star Wars Trilogy is showing at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts from November 24 to 29. Tickets are available from HK Ticketing on 31 288 288.