wed 24/04/2024

Charlie Sonata, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh review – 'too much of everything' | reviews, news & interviews

Charlie Sonata, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh review – 'too much of everything'

Charlie Sonata, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh review – 'too much of everything'

Well-meaning but uneven comedy bursts at its seams with mismatched themes

Ravages of alcohol: Sandy Grierson is shambolic and nicely understated in Charlie Sonata's lead roleDrew Farrell

Time travel, Britpop, Sleeping Beauty. Classical ballet, the ravages of alcoholism, serial poisoning. There’s plenty going on in Douglas Maxwell’s idiosyncratic Charlie Sonata at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre – so much, in fact, that it’s hard to know what it all adds up to.

Girvan-born Maxwell is known for his poignant dissections of contemporary issues – he had big Fringe hits in the early 2000s with Decky Does a Bronco and Our Bad Magnet, plus plenty of well-received productions since then. Charlie Sonata feels like his most ambitious offering so far, but also his most uneven. It’s clearly a work of deeply personal passion – from both its playwright and the Lyceum’s artistic director, fellow playwright David Greig, who in the programme recounts reading the play on a long-haul flight and ending up in tears, gripping the knee of his neighbour.

There’s loads to move and provoke in the show, certainly, and to keep you guessing and piecing together episodes from a damaged life, real and (almost certainly) not quite so real, literal and metaphorical. But by the end of its nearly two interval-less hours, which feels just as long as that sounds, it’s as though you’ve been through such a profusion of themes, events and issues that you don’t really know how to feel about any of them. Apart from slightly nonplussed.

Charlie Sonata 2So what’s it all about? Holding everything together is the sad story of shabby Chick (beautifully and shambolically conveyed by a nicely understated Sandy Grierson), an alcoholic loner who rushes back to Scotland from his semi-homeless life in London on hearing that his beloved Audrey, the 16-year-old daugher of university friends, is comatose following an accident.

He embarks on a doomed quest to save her. There follow encounters with an uppity doctor (Barnaby Power in a nicely brusque performance) and his wild but barely credible sister Meredith (Meg Fraser on fantastically exuberant form, pictured above), garbed in evil fairy gear throughout as Sleeping Beauty’s Carabosse, following a seedy dalliance with a Latvian choreographer staging a local production.

More revealing are Chick’s encounters with two former university pals, go-getter lawyer Gary (a nervy Kevin Lennon) and laid-back, homespun philosopher Jackson (Robert Jack on brilliantly focused form, pictured below with Sandy Grierson and Kevin Lennon), who delivers some of the evening’s most thought-provoking monologues. The piercing lines that Maxwell gives him on millennial infantilism are some of the show’s standouts.

Charlie SonataWhat brings everything brilliantly together and makes it really memorable, however, is the visually stunning, dream-like staging by director Matthew Lenton and designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita. As artistic director of Glasgow’s Vanishing Point theatre company, Lenton is one of Scotland’s most respected theatre names, and he acquitted himself magnificently in his recent opera debut, directing Bluebeard’s Castle for Scottish Opera. Lenton and Jabares-Pita have come up with a wonderfully fluid, non-naturalistic setting for Maxwell’s all-over-the-place offering, in which lights and props descend or float back up into the rafters, phone boxes glide miraculously on and off stage, and pacing fast-forwards or pauses very convincingly to capture (or at least attempt to capture) Maxwell’s scattergun scenes, all lit with otherworldly sumptuousness by Kai Fischer.

There’s no denying it’s a provocative evening that has big themes in its sights. But there are just too many of them, and too many threads left dangling unconvincingly by the end. You get the sense that it could have felt like a glorious, celebratory, ultimately tragic mess, just like Chick’s well-meaning life has been. But instead, it feels simply like a messy mess, to the extent that even the slow decline of its central character to the show’s inevitable conclusion goes almost unremarked.

Jackson's piercing lines on millennial infantilism are some of the show’s standouts


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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