Charlie Chaplin was a godsend for some of the wounded during the First World War, which opened hostilities the same year Chaplin first appeared onscreen. Such serendipity is brought beguilingly home in this fifteen-minute dramatic installation presented by the Sound and Fury company, which tours to Perth this week to coincide with the National Theatre of Scotland and Perth Theatre’s First World War inspired production of The 306: Dusk.
Both are commissioned by 14-18 Now, the body set up to enable living memorials to the war through various artworks. With theatre producers Fuel also on board for Sound and Fury’s contribution, Charlie Ward plays to audiences of ten, who embody different versions of Harry, a patient in a wartime hospital ward. Watching and listening astride a bed, we bear witness to snatches of one of Chaplin’s early films, set on a beach and beamed here onto the ceiling.
As the makeshift screen fades and Harry falls into a delirious dream state, his mind free-associates back to his childhood. As he does, the innocence of seaside japes with his mother and watching fireworks with his father are sullied by the blasts of battle. Onscreen too there is a kind of coming of age as Chaplin clings to a wooden cross on the shore.
Created by Sound and Fury’s Mark Espiner, Tom Espiner and Dan Jones, the power of the piece comes through an intimacy which first recognises the power of laughter in terms of helping heal both physical and psychological damage as any latter day clown doctor might.
As voices and noises pierce through the blackness, this becomes a short, sharp and meticulously realised meditation on the traumas of battle. Through its woozy, cocoon-like construction the barely discernible day to day collateral damage becomes glaringly apparent.
Whether Harry or any other unknown soldiers exposed to Chaplin’s antics lived to tell the tale isn’t on record. The expression of woozy ennui etched on Chaplin’s face in close-up at the end, however, looks the image of what used to be called shellshock. The silence that follows is the most devastating moment of all.
The Herald, October 19th 2018