Botallack O'Clock

Sat 4th – Mon 27th August 2012

reviews

Lettice Franklin

at 16:48 on 11th Aug 2012

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This superb show ends with a series of paintings by Roger Hilton - the play’s subject and protagonist - and a picture of him sitting on a rumpled bed, among the detritus of a studio, peering suspiciously through a pair of dark-rimmed spectacles. The photograph, seen at the play’s close, sheds light on playwright and director Eddie Elks’ creative process. The play is aesthetically accurate. Elks is also responsible for set design and, in this - presumably his easiest role - he triumphantly succeeds in replicating Roger Hilton’s last years, which he spent confined to a downstairs room serving as living room, bedroom and studio.

Such stipulation for accuracy can be dangerous; so many biopics thrill only in their attention to detail, in picture-perfect recreations of previous lives, and limit themselves from any innovation or creativity. 'Botallack O’ Clock', however, is an enthralling, brave, and - at times - cheeky homage to Roger Hilton, which seems only appropriate given Hilton’s own fierce independence.

Towards the end, Hilton (Dan Frost) cries out “I want no part in this jamboree”. The jamboree however is his own creation. Frost is a sort of one-man band; he emerges from sleep to fill the stage with his mesmerising presence, and slowly activates all that is around him. Frost’s performance is thrilling; his long limbs moving deliberately and slowly giving him the appearance of a much older, much more pained man than he is. These same limbs conduct the air elegantly, and send the radio whirring into life - prompting the voice of Rhys King to fill the stage. That Hilton is able to control the jamboree that he sets off only by banging a paint brush is perhaps an astute comment on painting’s status as the sick, alcoholic man’s only refuge.

The script is taken chiefly from Hilton’s own writings, but credit must be given to Elks. The collaging together of popular culture - 'Blue Peter' and 'Desert Island Discs' - with more philosophical musings on the status of art is masterly. One such musing has Hilton say: “If a painter appears in words people think they are seeing a more intimate part of him than they do in his work. What in fact they are seeing is not him at all.” This production shows Elks preventing any such assumption; surreal elements that fill the play leave the audience confused, with the “real” Roger Hilton permanently just out of reach - in the arms of a dancing bear, or concealed in a closet in a game of hide-and-seek with a talking radio.

The play itself critiques other ways of creating biographical drama. A moment where Hilton recalls his youth in Montparnasse allows a disappointing naffness to creep temporarily into the play. It is a great relief when Hilton breaks off from his exaggerated French accent to redeem himself entirely, with the barked “Too much! Try to be sincere.” Sincerity lies in giving up any pretence of reality.

The imagination of Elks and of Hilton - the two are inextricably interwoven in this play - is however a very tempting alternative to reality. You would be foolish not to trade in your real 1.40 to 2.40pm for this entrance into Hilton’s least favourite hour between 3 and 4 in the morning.

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Sara Pridgeon

at 22:42 on 11th Aug 2012

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Roger, wonderfully portrayed by Dan Frost, declares many things to be a “waste of bloody time”. Eddie Elks’ 'Botallack O’Clock' is anything but. It is completely captivating, an intimate look into the final stages of the abstract painter Roger Hilton’s life. We enter the theatre to a stage strewn with creative bits and pieces – half crumpled sheets of paper, paintbrushes and paints, cups and jars of water, alcohol, a radio. Frost is curled on a bare, dingy mattress with his back towards us; we are caught, our attention held, even before the start of the production.

Roger wakes in the dead of night, at a time when, in his words, “everyone else is asleep” – but “not me. Not you.” It’s an hour when anything can happen, when genius could strike. What does ensue is a surreal session of 'Desert Island Discs' – a conversation with his rather testy old radio (superbly voiced by Rhys King) that provides insight as to what it means to Roger to be an artist, something that he too seems to be trying to define, to understand. He makes sweeping statements about human nature and about how we should be, tries to find the artist’s place in the world; he smokes, drinks, plays hide-and-seek, paints, gracefully conducts the radio before assaulting it with his paintbrush.

All of the ramblings that make up the show are noteworthy, but the episode that sticks with me is Roger remembering his years studying in Paris. The transformative effect of memory is palpable in this scene: Frost sheds Roger’s tired skin, uncurls his cramped, elderly limbs to become a young man again. When he rises to his full height, he is suddenly – and surprisingly – tall; he bounds across the stage, his monologue gathering speed as he remembers his daily walk to his classes, streets and people, the artist’s model who was the object of his desire. It’s a masterful transformation, indicative of Frost’s talents with the role – and of Roger, who is perfectly eccentric, both frail and full of life.

'Botallack O’Clock' is wonderfully written and superbly acted. It is rambling and strange, utterly convincing despite bordering on the surreal. It is an hour in the life and mind of an artist, an hour which juxtaposes the inescapable passing of time – which we too as an audience cannot escape, as the ticking of clocks pervades the show – and Roger’s attempt, the artist’s attempt to live on, to “stop destiny” through artistic creation. This is a fantastic offering from Third Man Theatre – comic, insightful, and unmissable.

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