Chaplin: Birth of a Tramp review

Jack Studio Theatre – until 22 February 2020

Reviewed by Claire Roderick


The story of Charlie Chaplin’s rise from childhood poverty to film icon is told in heart-warming style in Arrows & Traps’ latest show. Writer and director Ross McGregor explores Chaplin’s life with incredible sensitivity and intelligence, jumping between the older Chaplin (Conor Moss) on the set of City Lights and his childhood in Victorian London.

Chaplin’s obsessive knowledge of where every cent is spent on his productions doesn’t stop him from insisting on days of takes trying to achieve a perfection and authenticity that frustrates and baffles the cast and crew, and Laurel Marks’ attempts to offer a flower in a way that matches his vision are hilarious. McGregor shows the chaos and uncertainty of young Charlie’s life that feed his controlling nature as an adult with a deft touch, with Toby Wynn-Davies as half brother Sydney, Benjamin Garrison as his drunken father, and Clare Aster as his tragic mother.

The older Chaplin sits and voices his younger self as Lucy Ioannou plays Charlie as a boy. She never speaks throughout the play, instead miming and clowning expertly as Charlie before morphing into the Tramp character and eventually becoming a resented alter ego. The scenes between Charlie and his mother as they mimic neighbours and she criticises his stance and lines echo his with Laurel Mark’s actress, but unlike him, Charlie’s mother can find the exact words to share her ideas. While it is sometimes hard to tear your eyes away from the action, Conor Moss’ expressions as he sits on the side-lines are exquisite.

There are, as always with Arrows & Traps, magical sequences choreographed to differing music styles that evoke the cruelty of the workhouse, the madness of the music hall and the rapid production style of silent movies with humour and pathos.

The cast all give outstanding performances, but Clare Aster’s heart breaking portrayal will haunt you and Lucy Ioannou is simply phenomenal as the Tramp, making a brilliantly choreographed and nuanced performance seem instinctive and spontaneous, just like the great man himself.

An enthralling and emotive production with an unforgettable central performance – another unmissable show from Arrows & Traps.