“Charlie believes he can take London theatre by storm . . . despite bad luck and bad parts.” What an understatement! In A.L. Freeman’s The Bright Side of Life, we meet Charlie Brightman: an uber-optimistic young actor who arrives in London with an acting scholarship, a fabulous wardrobe, and the theatre world at his feet. Well, he would have the theatre world at his feet if he didn’t have the most ridiculously bad luck of any human that ever lived.
It seems that whatever Charlie gets is immediately taken away from him, often in a somewhat humiliating manner. A lesser man would let it get him down, but not Charlie Brightman! Disasters of finance, acting, women, and even fashion don’t discourage Charlie; he perseveres, ever the confident fellow. When all seems lost, and Charlie’s circumstances are about as low as low can go, opportunity comes knocking from a casting agent with a major offer. Is this the big break that Charlie’s been waiting for or just one more nail in his acting coffin?
Oh, the pain – and hilarity – of watching Charlie Brightman try to make his way in London, in theatre, and in life. As I read The Bright Side of Life, the lyrics to Chumbawumba’s ’90s hit kept running through my mind: “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.” And, where Chumbawumba’s escapist drinks of choice were whiskey, vodka, lager, and cider, all good ol’ Charlie needs to keep standing — or to fall into a drunken sleep — is a good gin. A good gin, which along with food and cash, he most frequently has to beg, steal, or borrow. Remember Wimpy, from the old Popeye cartoons? “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.” This is Charlie.
A.L. Freeman’s writing is outstanding in both the writing and characterization, it truly catches the nuances of the British world that Australian Charlie has entered. Readers will find themselves shaking their heads at Charlie’s poor decisions and their consequences, and even more so with Charlie’s unwavering, almost supernatural optimism. The first half of the story drags a bit, but there are laugh-out-loud moments as Charlie finds himself in a variety of situations which always have the worst possible outcomes. The story tied up a bit too neatly for my liking, and it was a bit of a stretch to believe the particulars in how the ending played out, but all in all, it worked, and readers will turn the last page feeling their time was well spent.