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Theatre 503 presents:


The Charming Man


Written by Gabriel Bisset-Smith


Directed by Paul Robinson


Theatre 503


 19 October – 13 November 2010





A review by Richard J Thornton for EXTRA! EXTRA!

The Charming Man is a play about politics that, rather characteristically, can’t make up its mind. Caught between a caricatured satire and a sincere exposition of our times, its falls ill to the ambitiousness of trying to do too much and becomes diluted into a showcase of sketches on current affairs. The dialogue is written with great care and directed with emotional scrutiny, but the show fails to impress a feeling of woe at Britain’s domestic situation, and is missing the scathing wit to carve bulls-eye satire. Nevertheless, the acting is pinpoint and expertly natural and if your looking for some searing characterisations, you’ll no doubt find Syrus Lowe’s leading character Darren one charming man.

The Charming Man tracks his rise and corruption, as a youth club organiser from Brixton who becomes the new face of the burgeoning Green Party. Set in the political disillusionment of 2015, Darren is given the opportunity to lead his country into a brighter future. His only problem being that Britain’s not ready to accept a black homosexual as prime minister – well, something’s got to give.

The play features a sea of smudged values and PR manoeuvres orchestrated by self-righteous and self-important individuals who seek only their own agendas. From Marcus Stone’s insecurity-led obsession with power and Kenny Fox’s dubious wish to continue his father’s legacy of greed, to Olivia Jones’s emotional disgust with animal testing, each character attempts to rearrange Darren in their own image. His only true support comes from boyfriend Luke, who martyrs their relationship in the hope that it will help Darren win the election – or is it because he’s too afraid of the media’s piercing gaze?

Whatever Luke’s reason, Sam Pamphilon acts courageously. His relationship with Darren is perfect: from teasing jibes to pained embraces, the emotion sweeps clear into the theatre from their shared South London flat where the couple have undoubtedly lived for a year prior to this performance - no other scenario could explain such naturalism. Syrus Lowe plays Pamphilon’s better half, and that’s not just Luke’s opinion but that of David Verrey’s Marcus, whose wretched sneering convinces Luke that Darren would be more successful without him. Marcus’s public schoolboy, bibulous arrogance is adopted without a hitch by domineering Verrey. Christopher Brandon holds the duel role of Kenny Fox and Chris Warren with astute ease, and indeed the latter is one of Bisset-Smith’s most revealing creations. Warren is rife with ignorance and racism, but is unfortunately, also bestowed with a sharp wit and persuasive voice, making him a dangerous creature for liberalism to tackle. In fact, Warren, Luke and Marcus are the writer’s most perfected characters, and a scene where Warren interviews Darren on his radio show is brought to a heart-breaking climax when Luke, followed by Marcus ring in to praise and taunt the Green Party’s finest, results in what turns out to be the play’s most accomplished theatrical exchange.

I’m not sure whether Libby Watson is an ex-employee of Apple, but her set design could be the basis for their new Oxford Street showroom. That’s not to say it’s corporate and lifeless, but fluid, minimal and functional. This all white 3-D puzzle of lecterns, breakfast bars and nightclub stools is the anti-matter with which the actors tangle. Indeed, Paul Robinson has a challenging task delineating the space between set change and dramatic action. Nevertheless he succeeds, and Watson’s impressive solution to Theatre 503’s miniature black-box will no doubt attract the attention of design awarders and Swedish kitchen companies alike.

This is a play where every contributor did what was asked of them. The actors masterfully fleshed the characters, not least helped by Robinson’s finely toned direction. Bisset-Smith’s colloquial language is accurate, and the interactions are solid. The set functions with a touch of calamity which bestows it with life, and Kevin Treacy’s lights layer on the mood. Yet, its sum is equal to the value of its parts, and not greater. It fails to transcend itself and remains a comment on politics via theatre, rather than a piece of theatre which comments on politics.

The Charming Man is packed full of top notch acting, eloquent direction and revelatory writing – but it tries to do too hard. Do we hate the villain Fox who has bought a political party, or do we laugh at him? Do we sympathise with Olivia’s animal ethics, or view her as a scheming political hack? These questions might seem intriguing, but squeezed alongside issues of knife crime, homophobia and racism, its hard not to feel a little over-stretched. This is not quite theatre by numbers, but a little less box ticking, and little more concentrated meditation on singular issues might have provided a less cluttered landscape. Though a charming piece of theatre, this production’s many issues don't seem inter-married. 


Box Office: 02079787040

Theatre 503
Latchmere Pub
503 Battersea Park Rd
SW11 3BW

Tuesday – Saturday at 7.45pm; Sunday 5pm; (Sat 30th October 6pm)

Tickets: £14/9






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