At its core the play is a cutting exploration of the passage of time and of self-demonisation.
The narrative is built from flashbacks and is always on the edge of selective memory and surreal reality. We open in a waiting room in the present day, but the majority of the play is set in disjointed memories from the past, with Charlie – or “Chick” as he’s known to his friends – jumping back through different decades from start to finish. He only occasionally returns to the present day.
The common trend is uncertainty and struggle. Chick is an unreliable narrator. Each time we jump time frame we are met by narrative from Robbie Gordon, listed in the program as the ‘narrator’. This is Chick’s story though, and it becomes quickly clear that the narrator is Chick’s self-conscious, documenting in unrelenting tones the questions he has over his own memory.
“Can this be right?” is the question often used by Gordon to open the scene when we jump time passage, or even when we jump back to present day. Chick does not know what is real anymore. His memories have been tainted by time and by alcohol and twisted and romanticised – often for the worse rather than the better.
We are told at several points during the play that “time travel is non-negotiable” and for Chick this means that he is stuck with the few memories that he has clung on to. He tells Audrey that “drinks are less sweet the older you get”, and it’s clear he’s referring to his waning standard of life. The fall from the glory days is similarly seen in Gary – shrugging when Chick mentions he’s done well to find Kate – and his other best friend Jackson, not content with the conditions of his day job.
When Meredith, a side-character with troubles of her own, suggests that Gary and Jackson keep Chick in this drunken state as an anchor in their changing, fading lives it may be a stretch, but there’s truth in it somewhere.
Gary and Jackson romanticise the past. The turning of Oasis’ ‘Wonderwall’ into a fairytale jingle documents this brilliantly in the play. And we’re reminded in one flashback to the 90s how time is continually looping and social trends continually repeating themselves - as Jackson points out how the 60s are coming back around then, the 90s have never stopped for the majority of the cast now.
The fairytale motifs throughout explore the way in which we try and escape our everyday problems.
And 'Charlie Sonata' does all this while remaining funny. There are various laugh out loud moments. It’s honest, it’s rude, and at times it’s savage. It’s also a brutal look at the way in which we support those struggling with mental health problems in modern society.
A sensational production from writer Douglas Maxwell and director Matthew Lenton, featuring brilliant performances, not least front man Sandy Grierson. An impressive feat of work from all involved.