Charlie Brown, Snoopy And The Gang Bring Some Fun To Somerset House

Good Grief Charlie Brown, Somerset House ★★★☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 21 months ago

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Charlie Brown, Snoopy And The Gang Bring Some Fun To Somerset House Good Grief Charlie Brown, Somerset House 3
Copyright Somerset House.

Did you grown up reading the Peanuts comic strip? Charlie Brown and the gang have settled in for a major exhibition at Somerset House, and it's full of exactly the quirky humour we'd expect.

There's plenty of merch on display. Copyright Tim Bowditch.

The show starts off slowly with some background on Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, before ramping up to plenty of panels from the comics themselves — which, let's face it, are what most people are here to see. Think Snoopy lying on his doghouse, and Lucy shouting at people, sending them somersaulting through the air. It's strange to look back at the comics we once laughed at, and realise Lucy was just a bully, stealing her brother's security blanket and moving a football out of the way just as Charlie Brown is about to kick it.

Peanuts grew well beyond the comic strips though. Toys and jackets are on display, along with Snoopy illustrations in Billie Jean King's book on playing sports. Snoopy was even used as a logo for the American armed forces in Vietnam.

Contemporary artists such as Mark Drew have responded to Peanuts as well. Copyright Somerset House.

The power of the brand grew so strong that there was a special Peanuts edition of Time magazine. Then Governor Ronald Reagan wrote to Charles Schulz about how he wrestled with his own thoughts on abortion, after he'd seen the same issue discussed in a Peanuts comic.

Contemporary artists inspired by the world of Peanuts have created works to go alongside the exhibition; Marcus Coates has recreated Lucy's psychiatric stand so that people can pop into the show and talk to someone about their problems. Hopefully it will be more understanding than Lucy's usual response to Charlie Brown's depression, shouting at him to get over it.

Lie on some beanbags and enjoy some vintage Peanuts shows. Copyright Somerset House.

Andy Holden's installation involves laying on Snoopy themed beds and watching a film about the nature of friendship and how it's changed over time. Is a pen pal or a Facebook friend really a friend? And can these bonds be stronger than those in the physical world?

Unfortunately, not all the contemporary art responses are as effective. A few fair are tedious, including a surreal video by Fiona Banner of floating balloons in Bexhill.

Pick the right time and you can get some free counselling. Copyright Somerset House.

What we're really here for is the Peanuts specific content and thankfully there's plenty of it, including old books to thumb through, a room to watch TV clips while lying on bean bags, and comic strips galore.

With all the humour, we forget how touching some of the characters could be. When Woodstock sues Snoopy for having talked all night to the girl he fancies at a party, Snoopy lets him know that his heart is worth much more than the $6 he's suing for.

One blanket sums up the character of Linus succinctly. Copyright Tim Bowditch.

When Patty mentions she saw the way Chuck looked at a pretty girl, and then couldn't stop crying because she realised nobody would ever love her that way, we just want to reach into the frame and give a reassuring hug to a fictional character.

This massive exhibition swings from fun to meh throughout, but Peanuts fans are going to love it, and even those unfamiliar with the comic will have a few smiles and guffaws as they read about the gang and their adventures. Now, if you'll excuse us this, nostalgia trip has brought back fond memories — we're going to make a cup of tea, open up a Peanuts book and spend some time with Charlie Brown and friends.

Good Grief, Charlie Brown! Celebrating Peanuts and the enduring power of Peanuts is on at Somerset House until 3 March 2019. Tickets are £14 for adults.

Last Updated 25 October 2018