An over-loving portrait of the lovable Tramp, Chaplin is an assured and solid play but one that refuses to ever take off its rose-tinted glasses. The play, written by Christoffer Mellgren and Johan Storgard, shows the meteoric rags to riches story of the world’s most famous silent comedian. It isn’t as funny as it should be but it is nonetheless entertaining.
Withered and wheelchair-bound he still retains a twinkling glint in his eye, a devilish refusal to go with solemn face into that good night.
James Bryce stands out as the older Chaplin. Withered and wheelchair-bound he still retains a twinkling glint in his eye, a devilish refusal to go with solemn face into that good night. The rest of the cast acquit themselves well, though not so memorably. Christopher Page as the younger Chaplin does a good job of tracing the man’s changing career and temperament. There is however disappointingly little in his performance to convey the physicality of Chaplin which is a missed opportunity.
The script has several odd turns. For instance, it tries to persuade us that the reason Chaplin stayed loyal to silent cinema for so long was due to a pathological fear of speaking that he picked up during childhood. I didn’t get it either. More damningly, the play glosses over Chaplin’s multiple and dubious relationships with younger women, seeing them simply as a part of a McCarthyite smear campaign. This reduces a serious issue to the level of nasty rumours promulgated by nasty people and is generally indicative of the overly polite stance that the play takes to its subject. Its skirting often makes for uncomfortable viewing.
Perhaps worst of all are the clips played from Chaplin’s movies that act like a Greatest Hits compilation of Chaplin gags. This is an odd point to criticise as these interludes are definitely the show’s highlight. The problem is that they underline the fact that Chaplin is quite an unfunny show. Whilst dramatic and poignant it never approaches the divine silliness of the man himself.
What the play is very good on is Chaplin’s increasing politicisation. The making of The Great Dictator (a satire on Hitler made at a time when many Americans supported the Nazis as a possible rival to Bolshevism) is done with great detail and insight. Chaplin comes across as a committed though sometimes pig-headed humanitarian. It still feels like hero-worship but here it’s justified.
As enjoyable and well performed as it is, Chaplin is let down by never doing what the man himself did in The Great Dictator - take risks.