The Diary: Chaplin festival set to be just the tonic

Stewart Campbell with Charlie Chaplin ahead of a Charlie Chaplin festival to be held in the city in Spring 2014
Stewart Campbell with Charlie Chaplin ahead of a Charlie Chaplin festival to be held in the city in Spring 2014
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“A day without laughing is a day wasted,” said Charlie Chaplin in 1964.

Now, the English screen icon – and perhaps the most famous movie star of all time – is to keep Sheffield chuckling this spring. A spectacular festival celebrating his life, films and musical composition is to be held here.

A double bill of his movies will be beamed onto the side of Weston Park Museum one evening; while several of his silent features are to be screened at venues across the city – including The Showroom cinema and Firth Hall – complete with live musical scores. One will be shown with the Sheffield Rep Orchestra performing the original soundtrack.

And internationally renowned experts and academics will give a range of talks about the star during the 12-day run from May 18-30.

It all means that if, as Chaplin himself declared, “laughter is the tonic and the relief”, Sheffield should be ha-ha-ing its way to health.

“He is one of the most instantly recognisable people of all time,” says organiser Stewart Campbell. “He goes beyond being a movie star and is embedded in our collective consciousness.

“But he wasn’t just a great actor. He was a director, writer, artist and composer – and we want to celebrate all that.”

But why here and why now? After all, Chaplin, who lived 1889-1977, has no link with Sheffield other than a quick visit, in 1904, to perform at The Lyceum. The then 15-year-old appeared in Sherlock Holmes.

So, why? It’s all Stewart’s idea, it seems.

He’s Sheffield University’s concert manager, and it’s his job to attract Sheffielders to see more classic, jazz and world music.

Last year, as part of his spring season, he showed The Gold Rush, a Chaplin silent movie, in Firth Hall, complete – here’s the music bit – with a full orchestra providing the score.

“People actually turned up in Chaplin costumes and I just thought a festival would be a great idea,” explains the 28-year-old of Kelham Island. “He was a real innovator and his reputation transcends different generations. I think this festival will appeal to a range of people.”

Which perhaps leaves just one question. As Hollywood studio Keystone asked in one ad campaign: “are you ready for the Chaplin boom?”

A CHAPLIN CENTURY

It was 100 years ago this month that Charlie Chaplin stumbled on the look and the character – The Little Tramp – that would come to define him.

While working on a film called Mabel’s Strange Predicament in California, the studio owner told the Londoner to put on a comedy outfit and make the short film funnier.

Racking through costumes, he pulled on the mismatched outfit that would become his trademark, stole the show, and never looked back. His Little Tramp character made him a global star by 1915 and would appear in features and shorts for 22 years.

“The fact that it was the 100th anniversary of The Little Tramp’s first appearance is sort of a coincidence but it chimes nicely,” says Stewart Campbell, who is organising Sheffield’s first ever Charlie Chaplin Festival this spring.

The actor made dozens of films including City Lights, Modern Times and The Pilgrim which will be among those shown in Sheffield in May.

Festival’s line-up – and tickets – announced February 17. Details at www.sheffield.ac.uk/concerts