Fringe 2008, BATS Theatre
Feb 23-26 | Reviewed by Melody Nixon

IN ITS publicity notes Charlie, a new play by Fleur Fitzpatrick, is described as “explosive, provocative theatre” that challenges “all your preconceptions and stereotypes.” These are pretty wild claims for any piece of theatre, one would think, but they mark the earnestness with which Fitzpatrick and her acting duo Jeanene Tracy and CJ Shelford approach this production. Anguish, screams, violence and non-stop, whack-you-over-the-head dramatics mean that audience members are left with no doubt whatsoever as to exactly how they are being provoked, and, sometimes, exploded.

Both Jeanene Tracy (as the 30 year old Anna, in her final days on death row) and CJ Shelford (as her prison guard, Josh) manage well with what is a relentlessly unmeasured and over-emotional directing style from Fitzpatrick. In a way reminiscent of Jean Betts’ directing, the play is at times intemperate to point of being dogmatic. Each emotion, mood and thought is dictated to the audience in a series of monologues that amount to straight-up exposition. The interlaced scenes of dialogue echo this exposition, and do nothing to explain why the relationship between Anna and Josh is intensifying so rapidly.

Fleur Fitzpatrick’s long fascination with opera (her first operetta, “Shellshock,” was performed in 2001) is evident throughout the piece. So is an appreciation of other high art forms like abstract painting and haiku poetry, though many of the references fall into cliché, appearing superficial and romanticised. We are not sure why Anna wants to go to Italy and listen to Porcini, or is so inspired by butterflies and haiku; other than the reason that these things are taken to be generally romantic and beautiful.

Charlie’s fast paced theatrical style may appeal to some, but combined with a superficial script the play risks losing too many people. Lines such as “everyone else sees a killer… you see a woman,” and “I would kill for her,” allow for very little interpretation on behalf of the audience. In the eyes of this reviewer the lack of space for interpretation means that the play has very little emotional impact. This is sad given the obvious and impressive amount of work and drive that has been poured into the production, particularly the plastics. The set is elaborate and impeccable, and so is the range of thorough, naturalistic props.

One is left with a feeling of appreciation that Fitzpatrick has taken on noble aims with Charlie, and the play is nothing if not heartfelt. If there was an echo of the set’s naturalism in the dialogue of Anna and Josh or in the path of their relationship, viewers would benefit immensely. Perhaps Charlie can progress with (further?) workshopping, or find its niche with a young and more easily impressionable audience.