It’s happened: the nineties have reached the next stage of the retro-antique continuum. Having done their time being purely outdated, they’ve made it back into fashion, gone through the last few years’ worth of nostalgic fashion- and music-based revival, and here, now, they’re starting to be critically dissected. Enter Charlie Sonata, which feels like a very personal play, and one that couldn’t have been written a decade ago.
In a hospital in Glasgow, teenage Audrey is in a coma following a car accident. In the waiting room outside, Chick – an old university friend of her stepfather’s – waits for the opportunity to give her parents moral support he’s singularly ill-equipped to provide. It’s a gut-wrenching picture of how friendships fail over time, mixed in with a cocktail of alcoholism and ineffective nostalgia for their mid-90s university days of “Britpop and the Balkans”. Douglas Maxwell’s script feels very close to the bone: whether that means he identifies with it very strongly, or the audience does, it’s hard to say.
It’s also extremely considered – the fairytale of Sleeping Beauty runs through the story, morphing and weaving back on itself. Charlie Sonata teems with references, as well you’d expect for a play with such a nostalgic thread, but Matthew Lenton’s direction never feels like it’s trying to be obscure or elitist (the whiff of background music towards the end, on closer inspection, is a slowed down version of Oasis’s Wonderwall, which is a nice touch). I suspect if I saw it another four times, I’d find something different in it every time. Certainly it’s the sort of play you turn over in your head several times afterwards.
Sandy Grierson has the most difficult job, as main character Chick, but he manages to wring a wide range of emotion out of a largely uncommunicative character. Others also shine: Meg Fraser as the effervescent Meredith, who could so easily have slipped into stereotype but didn’t; Kevin Lennon as Gary, caught between his various perceived duties and his feeling that really, it’s all too bloody complicated these days. Robbie Gordon as the all-seeing narrator in a freshly pressed suit flits in and out of scenes, commenting on how everything’s gone wrong.
At one hour and fifty-five minutes, it’s a long time to sit in one place without an interval, and the barrage of emotion in the last half-hour is exhausting a little too soon. It’s a shame that that tempers the impact slightly, because there’s a lot of impact here to be had. Charlie Sonata is an emotional ride, elegantly presented, and easy to identify with.
Photos by Drew Farrell.
Charlie Sonata runs until today at The Lyceum. More information can be found here.