sun 19/05/2024

Charlie's Dark Angel, Drayton Arms Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Charlie's Dark Angel, Drayton Arms Theatre

Charlie's Dark Angel, Drayton Arms Theatre

Critic's debut play lurches from the ludicrous to the mundane

Harbouring secrets: Joannah Tincey (Susan) and Kieran Gough (Eric) foreground, with Phoebe Pryce (Ella) and Ben Porter (Charlie)Aimée Watts (Haus of Loud)

The critic James Christopher describes his first stage play as a black comedy, and the opening few moments set out the noir element efficiently enough, if not with any discernable humour. Charlie (Ben Porter) has inherited an old Suffolk farmhouse and lets it out to pay the bills. Its one drawback is an indoor well, a health-and-safety hazard (and maybe haunted), which he plans to fill in with cement.

It’s an unromantic solution, but Charlie, married for two decades to the pragmatic Susan (Joannah Tincey), is not looking for surprises. He gave up a high-earning job to embrace a quiet life.

That’s clearly not going to be possible while Eric (Kieran Gough) is around. Cocky, garrulous, flash with the cash, he turns up with his young Ukrainian girlfriend apparently keen to renew a schoolboy friendship that Charlie, for his part, struggles to recall. That the school is Downside, a Catholic boarding school for boys that has made headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent years, should flag up the way this story is heading.

Three of the four of the characters in this play start out with a secret that they’re keeping from the others. Charlie, on the other hand, if he ever had a secret, seems to have forgotten what it was, and the cogs of Christopher’s plot creak and grind towards bringing it to light.

It’s like false memory syndrome in reverse, which might have worked as a plot device if the material had more credibility. As it is, the drama lurches between the ludicrous and the mundane. How humdrum and, frankly, old hat, to make Susan sexually frustrated and childless; worse, burdened with having never told her husband about an early abortion (the child was his, and “a boy”, as she later blurts out: one example of a need for more thorough research).

Against these and other difficulties in the script, Joannah Tincey and Ben Porter succeed laudably in presenting a basically solid couple going through a rough patch. Phoebe Pryce (pictured right, photo CTGF), making her professional debut as the Ukrainian ex-lap dancer Ella, teases out subtleties in a role that on the page would read as crass. Directing his own play, however, Christopher summons little dramatic tension and makes some very basic errors. The quantity of amber liquid knocked back in one scene would fell a team of oxen.

Barring one purely visual moment, when Susan bodily represents the sexy portrait Ella has painted of her by posing against a door in a golden haze, Charlie’s Dark Angel could be an afternoon play on Radio 4, yet ultimately the off-switch would have been too tempting. The gruesome dénouement is the only time this play fulfils its promise as black comedy, yet I’m still puzzling over whether that bit was meant to be funny.

There are basic errors of direction. The quantity of amber liquid knocked back in one scene would fell a team of oxen


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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