This production, based on the life of screen icon Charlie Chaplin, chooses to focus very much on Chaplin’s roots, his familial relationships and early days in cinema. A real rags to riches story, the characters bring late 19th century London to life – in particular Tristan Teller’s charismatic Marceline, whose playful interactions with the audience are most engaging. Chaplin’s mother, played by Rachael Wood, is a main protagonist and carries many of the major musical numbers in the piece with aplomb. Wood’s voice is both powerful and beautiful and while in the first half she is less convincing, her portrayal of her later years is moving and emotive. Helena Gullan (young Charlie/cast) and Emma Whittaker (Mabel/cast) both give strong performances, whereas Steven Arnold is weaker and not always very clear in his speech, leaving the audience missing the odd word or phrase.
The highlight of this show though, is the thoughtful, detailed and riveting interpretation of the adult Charlie Chaplin from Bryan Hodgson. To mimic the movement and physicality of a legend is far from an easy task, but one in which Hodgson excels. Chaplin’s awkwardness, defiance, likeability and passion are all perfectly captured in the actor’s voice, mannerisms and emotion. While the character’s journey could give rise to some ambivalence from the audience, Hodgson’s nuances and sensitivity in the role bring heart and empathy alongside a complex and three dimensional characterisation.
The musical elements are pleasant, with some nice but forgettable tunes. As competent musicians, the cast regularly switch between instruments and the strings in particular offer atmosphere. As a whole, there is often a lack of pace; the script brings tangential wanderings from the narrative and at times it feels slightly disjointed in terms of the flow of the story. Where the piece succeeds, however, is in enveloping us in the plight of the main character, really helping us to understand the amazing trajectory of his life and career, giving us a flavour of just who the real man – both off and on screen- really was.