Writer: Jim Kenworth
Director: Matthew Xia
Reviewer: Suman Bhuchar
This delightful play re-imagines what happened when a leading celebrity met a political figure of the day. The two characters could not be more different and yet they managed to click, especially if the performances of Divian Ladwa as Gandhi and Mark Oosterveen as Chaplin are anything to go by.
Performed in Kingsley Hall, the place where Gandhi stayed for 12 weeks during his trip to London for the Second Round Table Conference in 1931 — the aura of history surrounds the place and the audience are transposed back in time.
Kenworth’s writing is witty and there are some fine exchanges between Gandhi (an excellent Ladwa), and the local children –played by students from local schools –, as he tries to instil in them ideas of non-violence. “Words can hurt a bit, but an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind,” he reminds them, while they quiz him about his dress sense.
The ‘Peace Army of Bow,’ as they are dubbed, can be seen as the conscience of the play, with the young children serving as a chorus, curious and inquisitive, with an openness to Gandhi unlike some of the letters of the day, which criticised Muriel Lester, (ably played by Pip Mayo), founder of Kingsley Hall for “having a naked nigger in her house”.
Oosterveen is good as the world weary, Chaplin, who is able to call up any celebrity — from Albert Einstein, H.G.Wells, Winston Churchill to George Bernard Shaw –, and is keen to meet ‘great people’ to share his political views. He sends a telegram to Gandhi which is nearly dismissed by his entourage – before being persuaded by Muriel Lester to meet the showman, who’s in London for the premiere of his new film, City Lights.
The high point of the play is the historical 45-minute meeting, and, as imagined by Kenworth features Chaplin performing rhyming slang to impress the ‘great soul,’ – who hasn’t seen any of his films, while the ascetic tries to decipher the sentiment expressed in cockney rhyming slang. It’s a great scene, and the two actors work well together.
Despite the fact that there is no agreement about politics, there is mutual admiration between the ‘Little Leader’ and the ‘Little Tramp,’ and the play makes the link that at the time of Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, Chaplin was being investigated by Senator McCarthy for his communist leanings.
There are fine performances by all the actors and children, but Marcus Ellard, deserves a medal for the very quick changes he makes as he switches characters, from Winston Churchill to Chaplin’s aide; from tabloid hack to working class Englishman, to name a few, each with distinctly defined nuances.
The post script set in 2012 takes place in a playground, with the ghosts of the men, wandering around, while two gangs of young children clash over a football. “You and I might be forgotten but we must be the change we wish to see,” says the Mahatma, and we are treated to Chaplin’s final speech from The Great Dictator, urging people to fight for a ‘decent world and doing away with greed and intolerance.”
This is a show that mixes history and fiction to craft a fine piece of theatre with a message for our times.
Runs until August 12