Event by:Kings of England
Film Director: Rosie Carr
Music: Nick Gill
The Great Dictator directed by: Charles Chaplin
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Grow is described as Hull Truck’s “Artist Development programme for growing and nurturing people and ideas”. Through much of June and the early part of July the Grow Performance Showcase presents dance and drama events, plus this evening by the performance group Kings of England.
In March 1941 the National Picture Theatre, a Hull cinema, was bombed during a showing of Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. Astonishingly there were no fatalities. The ruin of the cinema still stands, fought over by developers who want to turn it into flats and a restaurant and those who wish to commemorate its past with a memorial garden and education centre.
Kings of England have created a performance that finds links between the cinema, the present and The Great Dictator. Although the premise is good, these links are not particularly cogent and the evening is dominated by the 75-year-old film – but that is no bad thing in a way! If the contribution of Kings of England seems slight, it should be mentioned that this work is only one chapter of a ten-chapter project, not all on the National Picture Theatre, of course!
Prior to the start, an accompanied fiddler played melancholy and evocative airs, finishing with ‘Ashokan Farewell’ – a very promising start to the evening. A short, but portentous, reading followed, introducing a short film, made by Rosie Carr in 2013, pleasingly atmospheric and deliberately unprofessional in style, but not quite “a miniaturised refraction of Chaplin’s original film”, as claimed. It follows five charming and natural children as they leave their homes, go to the cinema ruins, blow up balloons, wander through Hull City Centre and end up in the Truck Studio Theatre where they enact elements of Chaplin’s famous inflatable globe scene. Nick Gill’s music works well in creating the right moods for a sweetly gentle piece, playing on the edge of illusion and reality.
After the interval the only creativity lay in playing through a section of Hynkel’s rabble-rousing speech in fluent Tomainian (full of references to schnitzels and sauerkraut) several times before the film started.
And how does The Great Dictator hold up after 75 years? Pretty well, on the whole. Paulette Goddard’s merrily determined ghetto girl, bopping Stormtroopers on the head with a frying pan, is pretty much unwatchable now, but, despite his own disclaimer that he wouldn’t have made the film if he had known the true state of Nazi persecution of the Jews, Chaplin got an awful lot right.
The satire on the Nazi leadership is acute. Chaplin himself, manic, self-obsessed and simultaneously balletic and accident-prone, is compelling as Adenoid Hynkel, supremely and wonderfully ridiculous. Billy Gilbert’s vast and sycophantic Herring (i.e. Goering), full of crazy ideas to help his Fuhrer and always on the brink of having his medals torn from his chest, is very funny and sharply drawn – and Jack Oakie’s terrific Mussolini (Napolini, dictator of Bacteria), straight from the South Side of New York, almost steals the film.
Chaplin’s unwillingness to let his Little Tramp character speak on film is vindicated. His other part – the Jewish barber, effectively the Little Tramp – has some glorious set pieces, brilliantly choreographed, but he never finds the right voice for him and, as a character, he pales beside his cannily-played Jewish neighbours.
This showcase of experimental and inventive new work at Hull Truck Theatre continues until the 11th July 2015.