Friday, 5 February 2016

'Botallack O'Clock' Old Red Lion Theatre *****

It can be immeasurably strenuous to entertain an audience where a play only features one role, nonetheless, if the show is about the obscure abstract artist, Roger Hilton and the process of his working it’ll be quite painless to do so. The Old Red Lion Theatre’s production of Eddie Elks’ 2011 play, ‘Botallack O’Clock’ was an outstanding performance about the weird and wonderful process of Hilton’s artistic nature, besides this, the performances were incredible.

‘Botallack O’Clock’ is set in Roger Hilton’s studio which doubles up as his sleeping quarters in Botallack, Cornwall where we’re introduced to the abstract artist, Roger Hilton who is at present slumped down on his bed and when he awakens it looks like he doesn’t really care about his appearance; i.e. his cleanliness leaves a lot to be desired. Hilton is a particularly lonely individual who seems to seek comfort in smoking cigarettes and gormandizing a large consumption of whisky. We are soon surprised that the radio in the studio can talk with free will and has complete and intellectual conversations force of their conversations with Roger. Moreover, the radio soon becomes the Radio, its own unique character where humour and niggling is the prominent force of their associations. Over the course of the performance, Roger dabbles in his painting and writing a bit of poetry, yet, with the Radio speaking to him his loneliness is beginning to fade. However, is the Radio actually conversing with Roger or is he a little bit crazed? One such conversation that Roger has with the Radio is about how the Radio is preparing a fictional edition of Desert Island Disks where the shows allows us an insight with Roger’s life in which his life is extremely discombobulating to realise and comprehend. As the production advances, Roger’s intriguing personality enables us to observe his more gentle, virtuous and incredibly droll sense of funniness; as such, when he tries to grab a pickle from a jar with a spoon and it drops back down into the jar it portrays a microscopic moment of sadness.  There are some flashbacks where Hilton morphs into his younger self where he was a student studying in Paris, France and this is due to the fact that Roger’s drinking is causing him to think about his past. Furthermore, you can see how his obsession with whisky is really affecting his health and he never wears freshly cleaned clothes. Before the end of the performance, we are shown some of his most famous or for some infamous works; nonetheless, this is slightly moving to what an impact the man has in the arts and culture sector. At the finale, Roger switches the Radio off and falls to his bed snoozing away and as the morning arrives, he carries on his daily routine where he’s obviously inebriated. Elks’ narrative is preternatural as it’s rather interesting to see the artist manages to paint in a drunken state, but so did the late Francis Bacon and what is pretty fantastic is the decision to make the Radio a fundamental part of the plot just like Roger Hilton is and the communications with the two do make you chuckle. 

One found the performances by the company of, ‘Botallack O’Clock’ to be ingeniously depicted with regards to how the one actor can perform realistically to an inanimate object which has a kind of human feeling. Dan Frost is miraculous as the painter, Roger Hilton; in particular how you can see him with his own unique ways of working which is to drink heavily and religiously, plus the dynamics with the Radio is a mix of side-splitting elements and frequent bickering and it appears that in the process of this they form some kind of bond. George Haynes is sensational as the voice of the Radio; notably how some of his one-lines come out quite with a dry sense of delivery which is always a joy and his voice does sound quirky and at times you do forget that the Radio is a radio where the objects presents an actual physical and human like existence which I find vastly innovative.

Eddie Elks’s direction is transcendent here as you can see that a lot of time has been taken to ensure that there is an air of mystery and a desire to think about Roger Hilton’s somewhat twisted mind and how the Radio gives him the courage to get on with the work that he has planned to do today. In addition to this, what I do find stimulating is that the Radio appears to be a conscience to Roger and how the hilarity and the more tougher aspects reveal more about Roger’s own desire to make a clear and political statement through his artworks. Ken McClymont’s set design is extraordinary as with the intimate Old Red Lion’s space you become instantly a part of the environment and atmosphere of Roger Hilton’s studio come sleeping quarters. Also the scenic art and construction is wonderful and with Christopher Naime’s terrific lighting design and Liam Welton’s phenomenal sound design it complements the dark mood that emancipates the piece. Overall, the experience of ‘Botallack O’Clock’ to be a faultless production that suggests that delving into an artist’s working process can categorically be enchanting.

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