FROME-based actor, playwright (and now film director) Pip Utton has an extraordinary knack of inhabiting his characters, so that their familiar tics and expressions become part of his face and body.
His solo shows are now the stuff of theatrical legend, after many years packing houses on the Edinburgh Fringe, and touring to venues large and small around the world.
We in the South West are particularly fortunate in seeing his nascent work in the intimate settings of village halls as he prepares for larger stages, and he is as loyal to local audiences as they to him.
Never a Christmas goes past without one or other of Artsreach, Take Art or other rural touring organisations booking his Charles Dickens show, and he usually reprises a handful of other entertainments too.
This year it has been Chaplin, performed for Artsreach at Nether Compton and Bourton, before he heads off around the country with his Charles Dickens reads A Christmas Carol show, which comes to Chetnole Village Hall on 14th December.
A packed Bourton Village Hall hushed the greetings and banter as a scruffy old man in a dirty grey cardy and trousers, a world too wide for his shrunk shank, tottered through the hall with a little teapot and made his way onto the stage – Charles Chaplin at 88 in the early hours of Christmas morning.
Set in the dream-world between sleep and waking, this was Chaplin’s last day on earth, as he explores his memory to find the truth of his fame and his background.
Once again Pip Utton, who has brought Adolf Hitler, Frances Bacon, Roy Orbison, Churchill, Edmund Kean … so mesmerisingly to life, works away at the reality and illusion surrounding Chaplin’s life to show the audience a man riven by doubt, eaten up by unjustified worries about money and unsure of his own contribution to the world.
Chaplin was born in abject poverty in London, not knowing his father and idolising his mother. All his life he tried to keep the facts of her mental instability and loose living a secret.
But if it had not been for their rackety lives, young Charlie would not have been exposed to the demi-monde of music hall and burlesque that gave him his wide ranging talents.
By the time he was 30, Chaplin was established on the American movie scene, writing, directing and starring in his own films, for which he often composed scores and conducted the orchestra too.
He was given an Oscar at the first ever Academy Award ceremony for four facets of his work, and another for Lifetime Achievement.
But his American Land of Opportunity chucked him out, trumping up perhaps spurious claims of child molestation and Communism, forcing him and his wife Oona to settle in Switzerland, where he died.
Pip Utton not only researched, wrote and performs the show but he has also followed in Chaplin’s footsteps, making a little film to speed the action (with the help of Nikki McCretton and Phillip de Glanville), and that intersperses the show.
The audience came away knowing much more about Charles Chaplin, and marvelling at Utton’s skill as he transformed himself to yet another character before their eyes.