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Charlie Sonata

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The audience file into the theatre to be confronted with a sterile doctor’s waiting room.  Anxious people pace across the stage, smoking edgy cigarettes and looking tired, washed-out.  A young woman has been hit by a car and the doctors don’t think they can save her.  Friends and family wait helplessly.

One of these is Charlie Sonata (Sandy Grierson), Chick to his friends.  He knows there is something that can be done to save this girl’s life, and that he is the one to do it.  So he stumbles out of the waiting room, into the past, into a fairy tale, into the city streets to find the handsome prince who will wake the sleeping princess up.

It is unclear if what follows is a story or a hallucination or if it all really happens.  Certainly the presence of a story-book narrator (Robbie Gordon) and fairies in tutus support the former, but not many fairy tales contain discussions on the relationship between Kurt Vonnegut and Britpop.

This is what is best about Charlie Sonata.  The blending of fantasy and reality, the magical moments in the most unlikely places, the beauty and truth that only drunken old Chick can see.  Chick is well played by Sandy Grierson, who effectively captures the twitchy, shambling stature of the career alcoholic.  It is not hard to warm to him, but a drunk does not make for good company for any period of time.

Which rather sums up the main problem with the play.  Like spending an evening with your drunk mate, Charlie Sonata is a rambling piece, constantly drifting off onto incoherent tangents, and it becomes tiresome long before the end.

Whole scenes are spent trying to follow the thrust of conversations that only make sense in the heads of the speakers.  Profundity is one thing, but drunken rambling masquerading as profundity is quite another, and not nearly so interesting to listen to.  Regrettably, instances of the latter rather outweigh the former throughout the play.

Rather easier to relate to is the character of Chick’s friend Jackson (Robert Jack).  His idealistic, almost-profound student ramblings will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time in a student bar.  Likewise, his later efforts to maintain youthful friendships while moving on with his life are a conflict that many of the audience will relate to.  These aspects are all sympathetically portrayed by Jack.

Chick’s almost constant companion throughout is Meredith, manically played by Meg Fraser and dressed in ballet skirt and sparkly shoes.  She epitomises the both modern and fantastical staging of the play.  A fluid series of rooms are conjured with the lightest of touches – a series of strip lights, the placing of two chairs, a kitchen table.  Figures appear and disappear in the smoke, watched over by the sleeping princess in her bed.

There is undoubtedly a good play in Charlie Sonata, and it’s probably nothing the equivalent of skipping that final pint and getting home by midnight wouldn’t solve.  When it is beautiful, it really strikes a chord, but when it starts rambling, it loses the plot entirely.  Chick is a good guy, and the audience root for him right to the end, but it would be a more satisfying journey if he got to the end a little more quickly.

  • Tragi-Comedy
  • Written By: Douglas Maxwell
  • Directed By: Matthew Lenton
  • Cast Includes: Meg Fraser, Robbie Gordon, Sandy Grierson, Robert Jack, Kevin Lennon, Kirstin McLean
  • Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
  • Until 13th of May 2017 (not Sunday or Monday)
  • Review by Ben Reiss
  • 2 May 2017

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