Reviews (well more like historical pieces of description) The Charming Man & Reasons To Be Cheerful

Hmmmm so my timing for this poor blog is shoddy and these producitons are now over. Good work Honour.

Please therefore see these as pieces of interest instead of recommendations, or not, as the case may be.

Written for www.fourthwallmagazine.co.uk (of which I am now Theatre Editor BTW!)

The Charming Man

Theatre 503’s The Charming Man boasts some snappy dialogue, wise cracking humour and a very charming central performance, but in terms of political satire it feels about as serious as Boris Johnson.

Set five years into the future, a political void has arisen from a resounding loss of trust in the two big parties (it is unclear which of them is currently in power now, if anyone at all) and the smaller ones are jostling for power. Enter the party with an unshakeable moral core, the Green Party, to save the day in a world of headless chicken politics. But as Party High Command groom Darren, an unknown black, gay youth worker, for the role of Prime Minister, it seems rather predictably they are not as squeaky clean as the world takes them for.

Claiming to be an irreverent look at the machinations of government, Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s script is certainly full of pithy comedy but it feels under researched, with the lampooning consequently unfocused and the machinery of politics untouched.  To take a scalpel to something one must really know the subject and neither Bisset-Smith nor director Paul Robinson appear to have the insiders’ grasp that makes for cutting satire. Only the beginning of a scene depicting a live TV debate feels true enough to relish in Western politics’ inherent absurdity.

Libby Watson’s strangely confusing design equally lacks rigour. But in the midst of the headless chickens there are some intelligent performances from Syrus Lowe as the charismatic Darren and Kate Sissons, whose impassioned activist Olivia, brings fire and integrity into this political world full of caricatures and clowns.

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Reasons To Be Cheerful

Defiant teenagers pogo around the stage, exploding into impassioned impressions each time an Ian Dury song is even referenced, let alone played in full. But for all this wilful wildness, Reasons To Be Cheerful feels slightly too polished, a little too planned; there’s revelry here but is there real rebellion?

This is partly to do with a story that purely acts as scaffolding to as many Dury songs as possible. Dury fans Vinnie, Colin and Janine are determined to see him live, but when a road trip goes wrong, they end up experiencing something incredibly different, although just as important. In a pub play within a play, they are here to share the events of that day and honour someone very dear to them.

It’s a slight premise for a two hour show and a rather sentimental one. It’s hard not to imagine writer Paul Sirret saying ‘To hell with character development, we need to get Wake Up And Make Love With Me in here by hook or by crook so Janine better start feeling sleepy’. This laziness is annoying as it comes mingled with sporadic moments of beautiful dialogue and flashes of poignancy that enrich this likeable gang and leave one feeling that this could have been much better.

But the cast and band are amiable in the extreme and their eagerness goes a long way in winning one over. Even if the knowingness of their bon ami becomes a little grating, they are brilliant, performing each moment to the hilt. Graeae have once more produced a fully integrated and accessible show, that bypasses discussions of disability to focus squarely on the talent on stage. And a talented bunch they are, sweeping us up in a sophisticated production which goes a long way to belaying the simplicity of the script. If a little contrived, Graeae still prove there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful in this boisterous night out.

Interview: Gabriel Bisset-Smith and Paul Robinson on The Charming Man

Written for Whats On Stage

Christopher Brandon & Syrus Lowe in The Charming ManIt’s a common misconception that life isn’t funny even when it’s tragic, even when you’re in terrible situations funny stuff still happens and it makes it more moving.” Gabriel Bisset-Smith grins earnestly and I can’t help but grin back because it rings so true. As a Nation in the thralls of a Comprehensive Spending Review so drastic that to call it a terrible situation seems like an understatement, it feels the only thing one can do is laugh. But as the West End seeks solace in a nostalgic representation of political ridicule with Yes, Prime Minister, Theatre503 is heading up a season of playful contemporary satire, beginning with Bisset-Smith’s The Charming Man.

Inspired in part by the change brought by Barack Obama but set in the future, it documents the rise to power of a black youth worker whose integrity becomes polluted by a messy political world; is change possible within this immoral quagmire? “The most important thing The Charming Man is asking us is what kind of leader we most respond to’ director Paul Robinson explains: “the central question is do we want someone of integrity or do we want someone who is popular and can we tell the difference between the two.”

Whilst they are not trying to do a Have I Got News For You, constant re-writes throughout the rehearsal process mean it is as up-to-the-minute as you can get (“It’s really exciting to go home and watch the news and think oh maybe I can work in something about the Milibands”). But won’t something so linked to the ‘now’ age badly? It’s a concern that Bisset-Smith is remarkably candid about ‘When you write you wanna write stuff that you think they will be performed for years! You think…this is going to be my View From The Bridge and with this… they can’t do this play in 2015, it is just for now… that’s a bit scary because as a writer it’s quite a lot to invest.”

Far from being depressed by the idea that his play could be tomorrow’s fish and chip paper Bisset-Smith seems to find the whole thing exhilarating. Robinson agrees; “I think too often with theatre you do switch on a slightly more erudite or sort of aspirational side of your head that is a generalised part … I’m really excited about people walking in (and) being really engaged with something that’s current and saying “I’ve just come from out there and from reading the Metro and this is about that.”

Much like the political world it reflects, the process of commissioning, rehearsing and producing this play has been a whirlwind one, essentially taking place over just two months. Complete strangers initially, they appear fast friends now having worked closely throughout the rehearsal process (“It’s been a crash course in rehearsal politics!” Bisset-Smith confesses) and it is a collaboration that seems to come from a genuinely shared artistic understanding.

But for all their earnestness the smooth world of politics does seem to have rubbed off on them; “In some ways the play is our candidate for election and we’re going ‘Will they vote for it… does this hold up?’ I feel like we’ve been grooming a candidate and trying to get him to say the right thing and we are the spin doctors behind it.” Whilst Robinson chuckles, Bisset-Smith grins again like a charming candidate himself, beaming at me and I can’t help but grin back.

Runs until 13 November 2010