CHAPLIN: Birth of a Tramp
Written by Ross McGregor
4th - 22nd February 2020
The Brockley Jack Studio, London
UK Tour coming in 2021
Director - Ross McGregor
Producer - Chris Tester
Designer - Charlotte Cooke
Lighting Design & Videography - Gabriel Finn
Sound Design - Alistair Lax
Musical Director - Richard Baker
Clown Director - Stephen Sobal
Voice Coach - Sarah Case
Assistant Director- Tasmin Pinder
Production Associate - Marley-Rose Liburd
Stage Management - Gianluca Zona & Maria Almeida
Set Construction by Fuzzy Goat Scenic Services
Photography by The Ocular Creative
Clare Aster - Hannah Chaplin
Benjamin Garrison - Charles Chaplin Sr.
Lucy Ioannou - The Tramp/ Young Charlie
Laurel Marks - Virginia Cherrill
Connor Moss - Charlie Chaplin
Toby Wynn-Davies - Sydney Chaplin
LONDON PUB THEATRES - ★★★★★
Ross McGregor and Arrows and Traps Theatre have done it again. Official associates of the Jack Studio, the company creates intricate, layered plays that take a sideways look at figures of history or classical tales.
This time, the little tramp is firmly in their sights. The story follows McGregor’s trademark time shifts by starting in 1928 where Chaplin is at the height of his fame and his brother and manager Sydney is unsuccessfully trying to persuade his sibling to move into the talkies.
As Chaplin reflects on his classic rags to riches journey, the story turns back in the poverty of Kennington where young Charlie learns stagecraft at the knee of his beloved but troubled mother. And this is where the story moves from being a classic biopic to something special. Adult Chaplin (played with tender delicacy by Conor Moss) provides the voice for his child self, played by Lucy Ioannou who is silent throughout. As the action switches between timelines, junior Chaplin slowly but surely morphs into the little tramp character.
Naturalistic scenes are skilfully woven with cleverly created movement sections, another Arrows and Traps trademark. Sometimes they provide a compressed time period or act as a montage and sometimes stand for words that cannot be said. For Chaplin’s troubled mum (played by Clare Aster), these create an underlying sadness and serve to remind us of the power of her influence on Charlie. The movement sections also give the production a film-like quality which seems apt given the topic.
Laurel Marks, Toby Wynn-Davies and Benjamin Garrison make up the rest of the company and provide superb support but it’s Ioannou as Charlie’s alter ego who steals the show. Her every movement, gesture and look is pure Chaplin and her clowning is absolutely spot on (thanks to clowning director Stephen Sobal). Ioannou is the little tramp.
The play interestingly finishes with Chaplin’s straight to camera speech from The Dictator. This five minute piece in which Chaplin begs for world peace set in motion the USA’s rejection of the star as a possible communist and ultimately led to his leaving America for good. To modern ears this rant could have been written right now and makes a fitting end to the story.
Running at over two hours this is a chunky piece but I sat forward in my seat the whole time. Arrows and Traps have done it again.