Charlie Sonata, directed by Matthew Lenton, is an unconventional, modern day fairy-tale that follows a man’s descent at the hands of his emerging addiction to alcohol.
Sandy Grierson – already renowned for his portrayal of Faustus with the Royal Shakespeare Company – excels as the protagonist Chick, whose refreshing moments of sincerity (particularly opposite Lauren Grace) are balanced with believable bouts of intoxication and increasing instability. Particular mention should go to Kirstin McLean, whose monologue at her hospitalised daughter’s bedside is particularly touching.
The innovative staging utilising tutus for dancers, along with the soft play wall and ball pit, add levity in the face of the dark subject matter. The music ranges from the eerily tranquil, that one would expect in a traditional production of Sleeping Beauty, to throwback nineties hits such as ‘Wonderwall’, allowing us to experience the dips in everyday life through the soundtrack of the performance.
The themes of time and the impossibility of returning to the past is not only reflected within the music but also in these repeated motifs: “Time travel, it’s non-negotiable”, and this play is never short of a ‘blast-from-the-past’ joke. These humorous lines subvert the very real political undertones.
One striking scene stuck out with a debate on social media depicting a character explaining how sharing Amnesty International videos makes him feel “less guilty”, and another complaining, claiming that receiving the video made him feel “more so”. Tying in such topical ideas with the fairy-tale style adds poignancy to the piece.The meta elements of the play are also impressive with each character searching for their own ‘apotheosis’, a chance to be elevated to some divine status, which is awarded only to one character by the end of the piece.
Where the play is weakened, however, is Douglas Maxwell’s deliberately unstable plot which often lacks clarity and remains unexplained – in particular, Chick’s love interest with Mo and the non-linear time jumps. Similarly, the wacky character of Meredith (a modern version of Sleeping Beauty’s violet fairy) who is dressed in ballet attire and colour changing trainers seems forced in her humour at times, and incompatible with the larger plot, undermining some of the more serious scenes.
I did on leaving the theatre overhear a woman saying: “I didn’t understand what was going on until about three quarters of the way through” – a true comment but unfortunate when there are also such wonderful moments. Yet, this is perhaps the essence of the play. Yes, it is confusing, but it is interspersed with moments of beautiful profundity.
While deeply flawed in places, Charlie Sonata is a highly emotive production that makes us think, rather than telling us everything it wants us to know.
Running until 13th May
Photo Credit: Drew Farrell