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Chaplin: A Life in Concert

Arts & Culture

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Any one-person show can be a static experience, the audience members stuck too long in their seats with a claustrophobic unity of focus. Especially, you might think, for one man at a piano. But David Pomeranz does everything one man can possibly do to move and shake the story of the incredible life of silent screen great Charlie Chaplin.

A multi-media backdrop shows lines from songs, lines of time, iconic pictures, not-so-iconic pictures of Chaplin as a young man, and snaps of some of his lovely young wives. But, importantly, Pomeranz moves away from the piano and sings to pre-recordings of himself on the piano; at other times he harmonises with himself – a nice touch. He acts out scenes: he is J Edgar Hoover organising grief for the perceived commie. He does a couple of the wives, introducing a little Chaplinesque pathos towards the end. This whole show is tremendously well scripted and organised.

As Pomeranz tells the audience before the start of the show: “Chaplin’s life is like a Chaplin movie.”

As the show begins, it is 1972 – Charlie is about to go on to receive his Lifetime Achievement Oscar and the whole thing is a kind of memoir looping back to Oscar night. We see the abject poverty, begging and dancing in the streets of South London as a child with an absent alcoholic father and a mother in the madhouse, and Charlie himself in the workhouse at the age of seven. The depths of penury do not come any more Dickensian than this (we are talking pre-welfare 1890s here) and the seeds of the “little tramp” figure have their clear basis in personal history.

What follows is the greatest rags-to-riches story in history as Chaplin goes on to become one of the most famous men in the world, to amass wealth and also retain control over his own movies.

Pomeranz is a very talented performer. He tells a story and moves well on stage. Most of his songs are good, although some go a tiny bit aimless; none are destined to be hits in their own right. The story of Chaplin is compelling and well told.

David Pomeranz will perform Chaplin: A Life in Concert tonight (June 13) and tomorrow night (June 14) on the Festival Theatre Stage.

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