Jack Charles v The Crown: a charming rogue steals the stage
by DREW ROWSOME -Photos by Bindi Cole
Charles knows how to hold a stage and throughout Jack Charles v The Crown he applies a sort of anti-charisma (which fortunately doesn't work) to tell his story. Except of course, as this is a theatrical piece, his story has much broader applications and a definite agenda. The personal story, ably assisted by projections and snippets from a documentary that helped make him so famous, wends its way through shocking events - the Australian equivalent of residential schools, sexual abuse, chasing the dragon, institutionalized racism - but always guided by his even tone and a startling lack of bitterness or vindictiveness.
Jack Charles v The Crown has what appears to be a somewhat ramshackle construction. Charles wanders leisurely offstage to change costumes, talks on his cell phone, and cheerfully admits that he is faking the recitations from his diary. Everything is underscored by a three-piece band that is so in tune with what Charles is doing that the casualness of the proceedings is revealed as a fraud. (The night after the opening I happened to run into bass player Malcolm Beveridge who confirmed that the band was part of the show from the inception. And that they have been touring, on and off, for several years.) Charles is unfailingly polite to them, and occasionally sings or picks up a guitar and joins in. He has a very fine singing voice.
All of this is enjoyable and lets us off the hook by exercising and thus exorcising our small L liberal guilt. Until Charles brings forward a music stand and recreates his court case pleading for his criminal record to be expunged. At this point he becomes focussed if still humble and genial, and his anger and refusal to let the audience off the hook is served with a good dose of humour, a wink that cuts like a knife. Seeing Charles in full dramatic flight makes us understand his fame and wish that he had played the King Lear role that is referenced in the poster. And that we had seen it.
There is a small coup de theatre, another song and Jack Charles v The Crown winds to a close. Always leave the audience wanting more. It is easy to see what a great con man he must have been, and still is, as he has sold us his story and political call to arms so completely that it is only after, hours after, that the thought of the holes in his story even surface. Addicts, and gay men, know how to charm. But few know how to charm as well, and with such theatrical expertise, as Jack Charles.
Jack Charles v The Crown runs until Sat, April 8 at the Berkeley St Theatre, 26 Berkeley St as part of Spotlight Australia presented by Canadian Stage. canadianstage.com