Chaplin: Birth of a Tramp, Brockley Jack Theatre

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What a sad business, being funny  Limelight (1952)

For over 100 years, Charlie Chaplin has been the world’s best-loved clown.  His brilliant comic creation of “The Little Tramp” is the first and most recognisable cinematic icon in history.  But his remarkable story of stardom and success has a darker side.

Arrows and Trap’s takes the safe approach to the art and artist, ignoring Chaplin’s problematic relationships with younger women and looking at his tough childhood in Victorian/Edwardian London and how it influenced his work and life.

In Ross McGregors adaptation we span 30 years as Chaplin, a millionaire movie star living in California in 1928 looks back on his life at a social and cinematic crossroads. High employment signals the upcoming crash but this innovative and forward thinking man is struggling to see ‘talkies’ as anything as just a phase. We see two Chaplin’s in this production; Chaplin the articulate, well spoken film pioneer (Conor Moss) and The Little Tramp (Lucy Ioannou) whose iconic look and character made Chaplin a legend. Moss and Ioannou manage to work in symmetry and provide a moving and sympathetic portrayal of a complex man. Ioannou embraces the her silent role and provides a rare theatre experience whilst Moss as the voice of Chaplin gets into the role of a man we rarely heard from.

The script manages to successfully interweave the story of his mother Hannah, a performer in London’s music halls whose loss of voice leads to prostitution and mental illness, his father, a drunk who gives Chaplin the performance bug and his loyal older brother Sidney (Toby Wynn -Davies) who puts his own life aside to support a demanding and unreasonable Charlie in his quest for perfection as he juggles completing City Life and his difficult working relationship with Virginia Cherrill (Laurel Marks)

Mixing mime this is clearly a homage to silent film, which transfers well on the stage. The most powerful scenes are wordless without undermining the productions dialogue though I do question whether the recreations of the silent films need to be such a major part of the production it is clear that Arrows and Trap’s want to play with the medium of theatre whilst keeping their unique identity.

Benjamin Garrison as Charlie’s father Charles Snr and Mack Sennett is one to watch following his great performance in this and Different From Others and Clare Aster as Hannah Chaplin combines the vulnerability and cockney hardness of a God fearing woman, the workhouses of Victorian society still resonate with society’s current approach to the poor. I really admire McGregor’s attempt to put women front and centre in Chaplin’s story, from the casting of Ioannou as The Little Tramp/young Chaplin to focusing on Chaplin’s mother and his relationship the groundbreaking Mabel Normand (Laurel Marks)

This is a sensitive and interesting take on Chaplin, looking at the artist behind the art and continues to showcase Arrows and Traps as a innovative company

Chaplin: Birth of a Tramp is on until 22 February https://brockleyjack.co.uk/jackstudio-entry/chaplin-birth-of-a-tramp/#toggle-id-3

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