Charlie by John Townsend
"Charlie Chaplin was, in the words Bernard Shaw, "the only genius produced by motion pictures." Whether one actually agrees with such a sweeping statement or not, it's certainly a reasonable hypothesis, given the huge range encompassed by Charlie's extraordinary talent. At any rate, it laid a heavy burden on the shoulders of the actor playing him from the moment he had taken the role. Not that the prospect particularly bothered me! In my brief acquaintance with the group over the last year or so I have learned that whatever else it does, it is sure to present something challenging to the audience, or actors or both, and, just as important do it well.
Charlie is exceptionally challenging, because he must be known to virtually everyone in the world nowadays, and as familiar all these years after his death as he was in his heyday, thanks to fairly frequent excursions on television. And I may as well lay my cards on the table and confess I am, and always have been, a confirmed Charlie addict, despite the fact the first time I ever saw him, in the cinema, as an infant in the comfort of my mother's arms, I cried to go home as soon as the supply of sweets ran out!!
I was interested to read that the author was a local lad, now living in Worcestershire. As far as I can remember the script was a fair approximation of the bare bones of Charlie's life, but it reflected one of the hazards of its genre. It was sentimental, a little saccharine, and was broad black and white in its emotion, which seems appropriate to an actor whose forte was black-and-white film!! But like most stage biographies, there was an uneasy balance between bathos and pathos, and the need to keep both narrative and action flowing. However, it gave every opportunity for actors to flesh out the historical characters involved and on the whole the main cast members took these chances skilfully if not always convincingly.
This was a mammoth undertaking and must have been something of a nightmare to piece together. That it was done successfully, on the whole, there can be no doubt. The strong direction generally contributed above everything else to the success of the evening.
A most enjoyable evening. It had everything, in a manner of speaking! We had sensitive performances from the lead, a consummate performance from his mother, strong supporting performances from the cast and several younger members just starting off on their stage careers. How on earth could anybody ask for anything more?! Thank you for the invitation to share it."
John Folkard-North West Essex Theatre Guild
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