Jamie Michie

Brian & Charles

08/07/22

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Like a grimy Wallace (pal of Gromit), Brian is an inventor. Unlike his plasticine doppelganger, Brian (David Earl) rarely enjoys success. His flying clock erupts in flames while still firmly earth-bound, and his plunger-water-bottle is an exercise in unhygienic futility. Nevertheless, he persists. Before long, he’s embarking on his most ambitious project to date, a robot – improbably fashioned from a discarded mannequin head, a washing machine and a rubber glove. All it takes is a stormy night on the Welsh hills, and Brian-Wallace-Frankenstein finds himself in possession of a fully-functioning AI called Charles (Chris Hayward).

Earl (who, with Hayward, co-wrote the film) imbues Brian with a likeable vulnerability. He’s a lonely, sweet-natured man, who’d be content with his ramshackle life – cabbage-heavy diet and all – if only he had someone to share it with. The friendship Charles provides bolsters Brian’s confidence, and soon he’s mustered up the courage to ask his friend, Hazel (Louise Brealey), to join him and Charles on a day out. A gentle, touching romance ensues.

Of course, it’s not all plain sailing. Not only does Brian have to deal with Charles’ (very funny) adolescent mood swings, he’s also the target of local bully, Eddie (Jamie Michie), and his terrifying teenage daughters, Katrina and Suki (Lowri and Mari Izzard). Can he protect his invention from their cruelty?

There’s a lot to like about this film, not least its warm heart and quirky humour. Directed by Jim Archer, there are many laugh-out-loud moments, and the characters are convincingly drawn. The Welsh landscape is another joy: Snowdonia national park looks glorious, even under heavy cloud, and Llyn Gwynant is breathtakingly beautiful.

But there are issues. My main bugbear is with the accents and their subtext. Apart from a few minor roles, the cast comprises essentially three goodies (Brian, Charles and Hazel) and four baddies (Eddie, Katrina, Suki and Nina Sosanya’s Pam). While the baddies all speak with pronounced Welsh accents, the goodies, for no discernible reason, have English ones. For Charles, this might seem fair enough: he is a robot, after all. But Hazel lives with her mother, Winnie (Lynn Hunter), who has a Welsh accent, and Brian makes reference to his father teaching him to build the fences around his cottage when he was young; they’re both local through and through, and there’s no mention of either of them ever having lived elsewhere. Did no one think about the connotations here?

There are plot holes too. It’s a fun film to watch, but it doesn’t bear much scrutiny. I won’t say too much for fear of spoilers, but where does the money come for from Brian’s final gesture, for example? And why has Hazel – who’s kept horribly busy by Winnie – suddenly got so much free time? More importantly, Brian & Charles at first appears to be a fly-on-the-wall documentary, with Brian directly addressing the camera, and even receiving spoken replies from the film-maker. As the story progresses, this device peters out, and a more straightforward narrative form is deployed. This feels awkward and unresolved.

I’m a little saddened by Brian & Charles, because it would only take a few tweaks to make it utterly loveable.

3.4 stars

Susan Singfield

Crash

Crash.preview

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

29/10/14

Offered in the great value, A Play, A Pie and A Pint slot, Crash by Andy Duffy is a brilliantly understated monologue that plays with our emotions and never loses momentum from start to finish. Monologues can be tricky. It’s crucial that an audience is brought into the actor’s confidence from the word go and Jamie Michie as ‘The Man’ manages to do just that.

He begins by telling us about an actual crash in which he was the driver and his wife, a passenger. But it also transpires that he is a stock market trader, who in 2007 strikes out on his own, just as the financial world is about to go into meltdown. The Man finds a new partner, experiments with meditation and tries to carve out a new future in the trading business, but deep inside, there is something festering…

Michie plays the role with great aplomb, making us care about a character who we eventually come to realise, we probably shouldn’t invest too much sympathy in. He is in effect, an unreliable narrator and at certain points through the play, the rug is pulled rather sharply out from under our feet as we realise he has led us astray. It’s a measured but powerful performance; when tears are called for, they are provided.

At just £12 for the performance and the lunch, this is a superb matinee that delivers in every sense of the word.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney