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Review: Charlie by Bhumi Collective

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A brief encounter with a true innocent.

In the wake of politically-charged, tumultuous events such as the rise of Brexit and POTUS Trump, the world as we know it has changed irrevocably, a much more terrifying place to wake up in each morning. How does one stand to live everyday like this?

In Bhumi Collective’s Charlie, actress Victoria Chen has imagined a hypothetical situation in which a twelve year old child (the titular Charlie, played by Chen) has been completely closed off from the world for most of her life, kept within a small sterile room and brought up by an unknown scientist, sheltered and safe. A complete innocent with next to no general knowledge save for the four walls she is surrounded by, Charlie becomes an experiment in which audience members, in one-on-one sessions, get to interact with Charlie and decide what to share with her about the world beyond within the brief 15 minute session they’re afforded.

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Photo Credit: Bhumi Collective

Previously performed in the UK across two festivals, Victoria proves herself adept at this role, essentially playing a blank slate and reverting to a child-like state, under guidance of collaborator Stephen Redwood. Within the four walls, there is no measure of time, and given no stimuli or human interaction, all she has is pencil and paper in which to express her limited imagination and dreams. It’s not an easy role at all, with Victoria required to be completely in character at all times, improvising every line, every reaction, and with every new session, erase all memory of her previous run and start afresh for new visitors to gain an individual, unique experience.

“Treat Charlie as you would a child,” we are instructed before we enter the room, as Victoria (as Charlie) looks up at us with curious, inquisitive eyes. The room is blank, save for a mattress and a chair. We decide to stand, not sit, and address Charlie from above, learning to communicate with her as much as she is learning to communicate with us. One has to make adjustments to our speech, restraining our words as we simplify our language to help our conversation move along, lest Charlie bombard us with her endless requests for definitions, a task we ourselves feel at times impossible to accomplish – how does one begin to even describe big, abstract concept to a being who knows next to nothing?

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Photo Credit: Bhumi Collective

Purity is a fragile thing, and once touched, cannot be reversed. It is with a heavy heart that we left Charlie, feeling a sense of incompleteness at being unable to fully tell her the state of the world, and wondering if we had perhaps ruined something by spoiling her innocence. Our sense of responsibility is rattled, and we think to ourselves if Charlie perhaps, might even be happier stuck in the room, away from the chaos of everything else going on outside, untouched, unharmed and eternally innocent. Is ignorance truly bliss? That’s a question that rings in our minds long after we leave Charlie forever changed, before something primal and parental awakens, making us wish only that we could do something worthwhile to ensure she grows up safe and sound.

Charlie plays at Goodman Arts Centre from 20th November to 7th December 2018. To book tickets, visit their website here

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