Helter Skelter Shakes St. John’s: Echo Productions opens Charlie: Son of Man

Opening night of Charlie: Son of Man, I walked into a half-filled theatre, excited by what I was going to see. I have been a fan of Echo Productions since their 2017 show, Bonnie and Clyde, a show that remains one of my all-time favourite theatre experiences. As I took my seat, I was able to take in the simple, yet intricate set, including two scaffolding sets, with actors placed strategically on them, using their phones. To the right of the stage sat Kyle Duffin, musical director, who slowly played the electric guitar to signal the beginning of this wild show.

Charlie: Son of Man, written by Adrian Yearwood, brings the audience on the journey of recounting the moments before the infamous Helter Skelter murders, by placing us inside Charles Manson’s world. The audience gets a peek inside what it was like at Spahn Ranch, as well as the members of Charles Manson’s “family”; but there's  a twist. 

Photo credit Ashley Harding Photography

Photo credit Ashley Harding Photography

Yearwood has picked up Charles and his followers and dropped them into today’s society, which is riddled with obsession with technology, and has allowed his story to play out in modern time, with the use of cell phones and social media. The audience, plays the jury in Manson’s trial, and is taken on a ride through the court hearings, and flashbacks of the pivotal moments on the ranch which all lead up to Helter Skelter. All this while reflecting on our own societies obsession with social media, and how we are groomed and controlled by today’s technology.

I knew for this review I didn’t want to have a pencil and paper to take notes as per usual, but rather, I wanted to watch and feel the show that was happening before me. Having seen an Echo Productions show before, I knew that their work was moving, chilling, and fresh, often times expanding outside that box of what most theatre goers would call the “norm”. 

I can assure you that the majority of the time I was watching this show, I didn’t even blink, fearing that I would miss just a little piece of the puzzle that director Victoria Fuller loves to sneak in these small, but powerful moments. Fuller shows her passion for theatre through her unconventional way of blocking, and choreographing basic moments, with even the slightest unison head turn having a major impact on the tone. The choreography of the show, also done by Fuller, was very sharp, and had meaning. Everyone on stage in the choreographed routines, and blocking, moved with intent and power, making it engaging to watch.

The tech of this show pulled everything together. I applaud the lighting design, done by Fuller and David Ing, which included a very red/warm tone theme, but also used unconventional methods, like projecting a live stream onto the set, and using an iPhone flashlight to create depth and mystery on stage. A moment that took my breath away was when they  of shined a flashlight into the audience, so we could not see what was happening on stage. It was so thrilling, and was done with just the simple use of one iphone. Kyle Duffin’s onstage sound effects was also a huge contributor to the cool mood onstage, as it unified the show as a whole.

Photo credit Ashley Harding Photography

Photo credit Ashley Harding Photography

I would be remiss to leave out the wonderful acting that this show displays. Every single member of this ensemble group was compelling in their own way, packing a punch with their words and movements. Special praise goes to James Karfilis, (Charles Manson), who gave a bone chilling performance, giving total commitment to the real life character he was portraying. Another shoutout goes to Cora Matheson who played the role of Linda, for her beautiful mix of vulnerable, yet powerful.

Photo credit Ashley Harding Photography

Photo credit Ashley Harding Photography

There was a few moments in this performance that seemed a little bit off to me, whether it was nerves, a tech issue, or even a mishap on stage. Most of the time, I could ignore it, or even enjoy it (including a moment where an actress incredibly covered up the fact her fly was down). There were moments in the show however that left me questioning why a certain directorial choice was made, or why I didn’t care about most of the characters stories. These reservations often went away while watching this show either went away, or something more important was happening on stage that made me forget. 

In the end, Charlie: Son of Man is a crazy, out of this world display of theatre. I would recommend everyone who has any interest in theatre, art, music, dance, or serial killers/cults to go see this show. Echo Production’s always delivers in quality, and that is exactly what you will see when sit in the audience.

Tickets are available at the LSPU Hall website, and the show runs from March 21-24, at 8pm.

This show does contain the use of herbal cigarettes, guns, violence, and strobe lights.