Review by Thomas Gregory
At first glance, Charlie is just a bunch of labels: homosexual, vegan, a hospitality worker. However, the main character of the one-man show, Protein, is far from superficial. From his hypocrisy and confusion regarding sex to his constant struggle with the ethics of veganism, Charlie is a subtle look at what it is like being a working-class Australian today.
Written by Darby James, Protein plays out the everyday struggles of a mid-twenties man who thought he would have been further along in life. Working as a waiter instead of running his dream vegan dessert place, having meaningless sex while seeking a real relationship, and finding himself lonely in a sea of interactions. As he repeatedly re-installs Grindr on his phone, gets locked out of his place, and nearly kills a homeless person, we experience the dark humour found in the life of someone treading water. While sometimes, the story feels like it has no sense of direction, and it is difficult to empathise with someone so terrible with their money, there is still a lot to empathise with.
The production of this play is, in a word, difficult. The set, with the ugly op-shop chair and the stacks of milk cartons, captures the world of Charlie perfectly and is used well by Will Hall as he tells the story with frenetic energy. As Sidney Younger’s lighting design reflects shifts between reality and fantasy, it melds brilliantly with the sound design to create settings far more vibrant than any set of props ever could.
While the play does feature other characters, they are all pre-recorded voices, overlaying the sounds of the world they inhabit. Cameron Steens is a brilliant sound designer who ensures what we hear never distracts us from the performance and only draws us in.
Will Hall is extremely energetic as Charlie. Sometimes this energy helps draw out humour that may be lost from the text, while at others, it highlights the hyperbole of the character’s complaints. While the swings between zero and ten get tiring towards the end, and I found myself almost hating the child bawling on the ground outside their apartment.
And this is where I most struggle with the play. Sure, Charlie is self-loathing and self-pity, but I’m not entirely sure what the audience should feel about him. Are we supposed to hope for a better future for Charlie, or are we simply supposed to be glad not to live his life? While the play brushes against interesting concepts like the forced role of vegans to educate others or manipulative activity in sexual relationships, these are never properly explored. Are they even meant to be?
While Protein, as written, has moments worth exploring, it is not a show likely to have any lasting impact. There are moments to relate to, but only moments, and then it is over. While a portrait of a real person, with experiences certain to be ripped from someone’s diary, I cannot help but feel it is a lesson in why not everyone deserves a biography.