The latest show to reach Theatre Severn’s Walker Theatre is “Chaplin – The Charlie Chaplin Story”, a bright, touching musical tale of the star’s life, from the humble beginnings to his rise to fame and stardom.
The play opens with a musical number about London in ‘the dead of night’, setting a tone of darkness and despair, and giving a glimpse into Chaplin’s early life. Living in poverty with his brother and mother, they struggle to make ends meet and are forced into the workhouse. Chaplin continues to face prejudices as an adult trying to make it as an actor and eventually leaves England with his sights set on America. Free from the starvation and poverty of London, in Hollywood he makes an impression and we see him go on to create his beloved character, The Tramp.
The action alternates between scenes of Chaplin’s success in Hollywood and flashbacks to his impoverished childhood. Helena Gullan plays a young Chaplin and is delightfully animated and mischievous in the role, whilst Bryan Hodgson stars as the adult counterpart. To take on the role of such an iconic figure is no easy task but Hodgson excels as he replicates Chaplin’s mannerisms and delivers songs with determined conviction, in this profound and emotional portrayal.
Rachael Wood is wonderful as Chaplin’s mother, giving several strong vocal performances, and capturing her sense of desperation and desire to both provide for her sons and instil them with hope and the importance of dreams. Steven Arnold gives a thoughtful, poignant portrayal of Chaplin’s brother, Sydney and is also great as director, Mack Sennett.
Emma Whittaker plays actress, Mabel Normand and shows fine chemistry with Hodgson, as their characters support but also clash with one another. One particular scene which saw their tensions come to a head was especially captivating and filled with suspense.
Tristan Teller also impresses in a variety of roles throughout and provides many moments of comical, light-hearted relief, raising several chuckles from the audience.
Not only are the cast terrific actors but skilled musicians too, as they play the piano, violin, cello and ukulele live on stage, in the play’s assortment of musical sequences.
The production is billed as a heartwarming tale from the gutters of Victorian London to the glitz of early Hollywood and it is exactly that, brought to life by a small but talented cast who all work spectacularly together to make this show a success.
Review by: Jenna Feasey