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Theatre Review: Charlie Sonata **

Michael Cox reviews a production that's technically brilliant yet doesn't work.

I’m convinced there’s a great play buried somewhere in Douglas Maxwell’s latest play, Charlie Sonata. Sadly, it isn’t to be found in its current form at the Lyceum.

The fact it doesn’t work is a mystery needing to be solved.

Maxwell is a terrific writer. He’s great at writing zippy dialogue and devising dramatic scenarios that are interesting. And his idea here, taking the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty and giving it a modern, alcoholic-hazed hue with an oddball cast of characters led by a loveable antihero, is inspired stuff.

Director Matthew Lenton and his team of designers have stitched together a tapestry of theatrics that is thrilling to watch. The technical whizz-bangery of the whole thing is practically a marvel to behold: it’s beautiful and wonderfully creative.

The cast are uniformly great. There isn’t one weak link in the nine-strong ensemble, with each actor getting at least two solid moments to shine. And Sandy Grierson, playing lead character Chick, is terrific as the sozzled hero with a heart of gold and determination to do right.

So why then does the whole experience fall apart?

Perhaps another fantastic story can help us out here: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. For all its surface wonder, the whole thing lacks genuine heart: only fleeting glimpses are caught, most of which get snuffed out when another fantastical scene change happens. It lacks courage to rise above its concept, letting themes of alcoholism and redemption (among many other ideas the play merely skirts over) lay in a gutter in favour of razzle-dazzle and clever quips. And while this does have a brain, the majority of the production is filled with such tedium with overlong scenes and ambiguity that it can produce a splitting headache, not unlike the hangovers some of the characters encounter but without any of the giddy joy tipsiness might bring, getting to the point you just might wish you could click your heals and utter the magic words ‘there’s no place like home’ to make it all end.

Charlie Sonata performs at the Lyceum until May 13, 2017.

Tags: theatre

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