Over the centuries, theatre under has undergone changes, but during such periods there has always been resistance. The reign of Charles II brought an end to the monopoly of men on acting roles, but behind the scenes, the playwrights and player-managers (who ran the theatre companies) were for the most part a male-only affair. While women like Aphra Behn enjoyed the patronage of royalty, other women without such ‘connections’ faced an uphill task acquiring recognition for their talent and aptitude for theatre… Written by Charlotte Ryall and directed by Jenny Eastop, Indebted To Chance follows the life of Charlotte Charke (née Cibber), a forgotten 18th century pioneer who showed that not only can women run theatre companies, they can play ‘men’s’ roles too.
Ryall’s ‘Charlotte’ has an intuitive awareness of her own abilities, and while aspects of Charlotte’s assured persona are ‘natural’, it has also had to be nurtured out of necessity, because she would be ‘put her in her place’ otherwise. Still, she does have an ‘Achilles’ Heel’ – her father, the player-manager Colley Cibber (Andy Secombe) and her husband Richard (Benjamin Garrison). Both men play up to the fact that deep down she seeks their approval and love. And while she may complain vociferously about their bad behaviour, it never occurs to her to burn her bridges and strike out on her own – at least not yet. Thank goodness Charlotte has Lizzy (Beth Eyre) to steer her true…
Indebted To Chance has characteristics of a Restoration play, with evidence of characters’ foibles in abundance and a marked contrast between public versus private morality. It’s also worth noting that it’s the women at the bottom strata of society who recognise the importance of what Charlotte is trying to do and come to her rescue. Charlotte’s ‘emancipation’ is certainly a homage to Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, as well as acknowledging what men are happy to see women doing – and what they don’t.
While the tropes of Restoration comedy are present, because the play for the most part is performed in prose, it doesn’t feel artificial or dated. If anything, the relevance of the issues it raises (without being didactic) scream out to the audience.
Indebted To Chance has its moments of mirth, but its commentary on the precarious business of acting, and the balance of power between those who have money and privilege and those who don’t, gives it a natural prescience.
© Michael Davis 2018
Indebted To Chance runs in repertory with The Recruiting Officer at Old Red Lion Theatre until 1st December.
CAST: Lydia Bakelmun, Daniel Barry, Susannah Edgley, Beth Eyre, Benjamin Garrison, Elliot Mitchell, Charlie Ryall, Andy Secombe.