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Review: Bad Luck Charlie

It’d be bad luck to miss this


"Luck", asserts Daniel Dennett, "is mere luck, not a genuine, projectable endowment." Not so in the mind of ‘Bad Luck’ Charlie (Ben Galvin), whose titular curse supposedly overshadows all aspects of his life; from the bleak opening scene where he falls out of bed after attempting to call his ex Alex (Georgia Vyvyan), to the bittersweet finale, Charlie’s misfortunes seem to be totally out of his control.

What happens in between is a deeply poignant exploration of loss, responsibility, and personal relationships. Most impressive, however, is the sheer talent of the actors: Galvin and Vyvyan are simply wonderful as the play’s only two characters, displaying masterful control of voice, space, and physicality. Charlie’s frequent gaffs could easily have been farcical, but Galvin makes them believable. His tremolo in particularly dark moments, often during the character’s phone-call-cum-soliloquies, filled the room with tension, and I found myself almost desperate for some form of emotional release. The chemistry between him and Vyvyan is touching – she matches his energetic outbursts with ease, simultaneously using small actions to great effect: a touch on the knee, steadying a wobbling glass, slight shifts in facial expression. This, intensified by the intimate space, meant that I often sensed the mood of a scene before a single line of dialogue was spoken.

Mariam Abdel-Razek writes flowing, naturalistic conversation, skilfully switching from oppressive to humorous and back with just a few lines – familiar to all of us who rely on jokes as a coping mechanism. Indeed, while I would not describe Bad Luck Charlie as a comedy, it is undoubtedly funny – Galvin and Vyvyan play off each other to great effect, particularly in the flashback scenes of their early relationship.

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Ben Galvin and Georgia Vyvyan / credit: Mariam Abdel-Razek & The Dryden Society

The Memento-esque narrative works well, a testament to the skill of all involved. It would have been easy to lose track of the plot among the frequent shifts in chronology – "the past tense", identifies Charlie, is "a bit fucked" – but flashbacks instead provide a perfect foil to the chaos unfolding post-loss. The turbulent, sometimes toxic relationship is well contrasted with the secondary narrative, which outlines their relationship in reverse. The increasingly carefree Charlie in these flashbacks makes his present struggles all the more powerful; the occasional rays of sunshine in which we see his "old" self – in a joke shared with Alex, for example – are especially affecting.

The transitions between these scenes are the only issue this otherwise excellent show has. They are often drawn out, an interruption occasionally exacerbated by jarring, loud music, which either contains distracting lyrics or seems sometimes to have no emotive relevance to prior scenes. Far more effective is when background noise (such as the TV) or more appropriate instrumental music is carried over from the previous scene: when this is employed, transitions allow for much needed reflection on the previous sequence of events while still providing the alienation necessary to mentally separate each section.

In any case, this is a relatively minor issue – the skill of the actors and quality of writing almost instantly draw us back in, and directors Joy Gingell and Saad Siddiqui have adeptly constructed each scene to maximise both. In fact, one of the most pleasing takeaways from Bad Luck Charlie is that the members of this production have clearly played on the others’ strengths; the sum transcends the already formidable talents of all its parts.

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Georgia Vyvyan and Ben Galvin / credit: Mariam Abdel-Razek & The Dryden Society

Bad Luck Charlie grips from the first phone call to the last, but be warned: there is no catharsis. Instead we are reminded that, just as Alex cannot "fix" Charlie, some problems simply cannot be solved. A rare glimpse into Alex’s own pain similarly reminds that no one is perfect; just as Charlie’s bad luck is an exoneration of responsibility, Alex’s hinted-at luckiness is also a construction. "I’m bored of fucking crying," Charlie sobs. Yet, in a beautiful penultimate scene, we see the pair huddled under an umbrella, looking out at the rain that seems to follow Charlie wherever he goes. Focus on the symbolic umbrella – the shared experience – rather than the downpour. Life may not have easy solutions; Charlie, as you, may be "bored of fucking crying … but at least I’m alive, I guess."

4.5 stars