Gregory Cooper is an actor. You may know him from such films as…. umm… well… OK maybe you wouldn’t know him after all. But he has been in films, including bona fide blockbuster The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. You’ll remember that one - it was the fantasy epic shot in New Zealand that wasn’t Lord of the Rings, even though at times it looked like it desperately wanted to be.
Cooper played a character called “Heroic Faun Number One,” a half-man half-deer creature who fights on the side of the good guys, but, being only a featured extra, doesn’t get to say any lines while doing so. The role took up three months of Cooper’s life and his experiences on set form the basis of this batty and charming one man show.
It starts with a recreation of his audition, acting his guts out trying to score a speaking role in the film, while being given directions by a disembodied American voice. He doesn’t get it, of course, and we join him on a journey of artistic insecurity, aspiration and disappointment, from his lousy day job to the high of being offered a minor role to the lows of disillusionment on a long and thankless shoot.
Cooper at times recounts his story directly to the audience and at others launches into high energy re-enactments and impressions. In addition to his younger self, he plays a number of outrageous show biz characters based on real people and also, in an entertaining representation of an artist’s inner turmoil, voices in his own head. His insecurities are represented by the taunting voice of actor James McAvoy, who was cast in the speaking role he originally auditioned for, and his artistic integrity by the Yoda-like figure of dramatic theorist Konstantin Stanislavski.
Cooper indulges in plenty of hammy antics and visual humour, his frequently over-the-top style well suited to a story about artistic pretensions and Hollywood excess. Underlying the silliness though is a genuinely emotional personal journey, and when he needs to, Cooper can deliver a performance with enough subtlety and honesty to make this effective.
He has been performing the show since 2009 in his native New Zealand, including a run at the New Zealand Fringe Festival in Wellington last year, and it’s easy to see why he keeps bringing it back. There is something immensely likeable and, for anyone who’s nursed a creative dream of their own, instantly relatable about this story of an actor trying to hold onto his integrity while working as a cog in a show business machine. Directed for its Melbourne run by comedian Cal Wilson, Heroic Faun No. One delivers plenty of laughs and a satisfying dose of industry gossip, as well as having a story to tell about what it means to be an artist.
You can catch Cooper late nights at the Fringe Hub. Or watch the Narnia film with your finger on the pause button, but he’s much easier to spot on stage.
Gregory Cooper presents
Heroic Faun No. One
Directed by Cal Wilson
Venue: Fringe Hub - Rehearsal Room - North Melbourne Town Hall
Dates: 28 Sept - 13 Oct. No shows Monday.
Times: 10.15pm, Sun 9.15pm (60min)