Actor/scriptwriter Charlie Ryall leads an entertaining troupe of actors from Mercurius Theatre Company in her play Indebted to Chance at the Old Red Lion Theatre. Twenty first century prose is wrapped in eighteenth century style and costumes to reveal episodes from the life of Charlotte Charke over a period of three years from 1741.
Light-hearted period romp.
Her colourful career is almost lost in the pages of history, but it makes for some lively theatrical moments. She was an assertive woman who developed a penchant for male roles and carried that over to her private life, often dressing and posing as a man. She was unafraid to go against the norms of her day and boldly took on those who might stand her way. Frequently in conflict with theatre managers, she had various jobs at different stages in her life in order to survive and spent some time in the debtors’ prison, when ends failed to meet. That internment delayed her playing the lead in George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer, which the company is also performing, in an updated version by Rayall, in rep with this play. Indebted to Chance relates many of those events and also explores other aspects of her family and married life.
There are lots of scenes and plenty of doubling up in this production directed by Jenny Eastop, which has its own highs and lows to match the life of Charke. There’s no lack of energy, which combined with the relentless pace makes the time fly by. Ryall plays Charke with exuberance, storming around the stage and charging from one setting to another. Andy Secombe, as her father, exercises a powerful presence and seems in tune with the theatre of the period. He also engages amusingly with the audience in his ad-lib introduction to the second half which contrasts with the sterner and deeper aspects of his character. It’s depth that is missing in parts of several other performances and which generates something of an air of superficiality, although Daniel Barry as Henry Fielding comes over as earnest and sincere. Elsewhere words trip easily off the tongue but often seem to lack emotional substance.
Sunny D Smith’s adaptable set fits well into the very tight space. The ropes that pull out to make the prison cell are a particularly ingenious device. It suits this light-hearted period romp that is pleasurable rather than profound.