Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Adelaide Fringe Review - Charles Barrington: Inside the Actor's Studio Apartment

Charles Barrington: Inside the Actor's Studio Apartment
The Tuxedo Cat, 28 February 2012


"I am not a comedian.  I am a comic actor.  This means that if you are laughing, I must be doing a very good job.  If not, blame the writers."

Charles Barrington welcomes us in to his studio apartment with these words, but he need not have feared.  The small but enthusiastic audience did indeed laugh a good deal, and rightly so.  Barrington (as portrayed by Anthony Rogers, runner-up in the 2009 Raw Comedy Awards) is an engaging if somewhat shambolic character who has a fine way with a joke.  There is a sense of self-deprecation and arrogance at work in him at the same time; he wants us to laugh but at the same time he couldn't care less if we do.  This makes for a style that is laconic and throwaway at times, at others declamatory, and this mix creates a somewhat unique tone to the performance.

The riffs on bee keeping and making a garden salad are beautifully timed and well constructed, and he is a performer who is not afraid to take his time and let his material wash over us.  No machine-gun, rapid fire delivery in this show (which is entirely right and perfectly in keeping with the persona of Charles Barrington), while the pseudo-rap version of Shakespeare demonstrated Mr Rogers' innate sense of timing and rhythm exceptionally well.  We have always enjoyed characters that seek to undermine the pomposity of performers (think back to Nigel Planer and Christopher Douglas' creation in the 1990s, Nicholas Craig) and there are the beginnings in Mr Rogers' Charles Barrington of a similarly entertaining comic persona.

However, ultimately this is a show in search of a dramatist (or at the very least, a good script editor).  In order to give his character a chance to really grow and breathe, there needs to be a greater sense of structure and some reworking of the material.  By this I don't mean the jokes - many of these are extremely funny indeed - but in the way the character of Barrington comes to the jokes.  There is no real journey in the show, no sense, for want of a better word, of a format.  If you think about the most successful solo character creations of recent years (Alan Partridge, Giles Wemmbley-Hogg, Ed Reardon), they all have strong narratives from which their comedy can grow.  Mr Rogers' show could do with some similar sense of coherence; an evening with him in his apartment is a good enough starting point, but there seems to be no real reason for our being there - there is nothing in particular he wants to tell us, no great revelation to drive the show along.  If the performance could be developed in such a way as to find a strong narrative line which could be used as the starting point for the jokes, anecdotes and recollections, then there is the potential for Charles Barrington, actor, writer, director and bee keeper to become a significant comic figure.

Similarly, the actorly anecdotes include his impersonating people like Marlon Brando, Michael Caine and Christopher Walken (these impersonations are done very, very badly and I am assuming that this is intentional).  Yet there must be more contemporary figures in the Australian theatrical scene worthy of parody.  It is in this way that the selection and style of the material perhaps needs some development, or at least a critical outsider's eye cast over it; in essence, it needs to go further in its satire, to be perhaps more contemporary in its choice of celebrity.

I should say, however, that I am talking here about making a good show into an exceptional one.  I enjoyed Mr Rogers as a performer a great deal and he clearly knows how to write a joke and to make it work very well.   If he can team up with the right writer or editor, and perhaps sharpen the focus of the material and ground the character more firmly in a world in which he can grow and flourish, there are the foundations here for an extremely entertaining comic persona. As it stands we have a very funny show that is well worth seeing, but one that leaves us with the sneaking suspicion that we could have seen even more.