The pitch for Diary simply states “A man reads his diary.” At first this might seem intriguing (as it did for this reviewer). This could be some experimental, avante-garde piece to push boundaries through its deceptive simplicity. But what becomes quickly obvious as the show begins is that there’s nothing mysterious about the basic synopsis at all.
Diary is the epitome of the amateur one-man Fringe show you want to avoid. Charlie Dupré gathers us closely around on stools and awkwardly-positioned denim-clad benches – partly to facilitate the intimate nature of the show, but mostly to contend with the surrounding clatter and chatter. The Pilgrim venue can’t be ideal for any performer. Dupré is given a mic in the corner of the bar, only partially-sequestered from casual drinkers and diners by a shoddy curtain. But he battles on regardless.
The crux of the show: the audience select sections of his real-life diaries at random to be read aloud, chosen from a flipchart “contents page”. And then he reads. This is essentially it. Most of what we hear is fairly banal, with the occasional lucky laugh, and we are asked to hold up red cards when we have had enough of a particular section. And this happens several times. The problem is that changing to a new diary selection doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to be any more entertained. Perhaps if Dupré elaborated more, freestyling to give us context for each of the entries, allowing us a more considered window into his life, then it might interest us more. But this only happens briefly, a handful of times. Perhaps if we were hearing the diaries of a world leader or superstar celebrity we might be more keen to find out more. Perhaps if the diaries were even fabricated to create a storyline or there was some pre-selection by the performer to ensure that any audience pick will fascinate, then this might all work somehow. But there is no such craft or masterplan, and therein lies the problem. Dupré is a confident speaker and no doubt a talented actor (also starring in well-received MacBlair at C Venues), but there’s no real art going on here. What we witness is nothing that anyone who keeps diaries couldn’t do and therefore it’s hard to feel particularly privileged to be an audience member.
There are a couple of slight breaks in the monotony as we are implored to select extra features from the “appendix”, including a freestyle rap and a ukulele performance. Whilst having nothing at all to do with the diary concept, these are in fact the only parts of the show with any promise as we get a glimpse into the actor’s actual gifts. But these moments are far too transient to impact the overall experience.
Although the promise of Diary – and the free seats – may appear tempting, there is little here to remember.