THE OLD RED LION THEATRE
A great artist stumbles through a drink-soaked night in this intriguing portrayal.
The artist Roger Hilton was, by his own admission, a man who mistrusted words. Yet he managed to produce a lot of them, many written in the dead of night to his wife, in the form of shopping lists, irritable exhortations, and occasionally apologies for behaving like a shit.
These musings have formed the basis for Eddie Elks’ play Botallack O’Clock, set in the grim, rubbish strewn room that became Hilton’s living and working space for the last two years of his life in Cornwall. Bedbound, he painted on paper around his bed, and fuelled himself with cigarettes and drink.
Dan Frost is impressive as shambling, sickly Hilton, and has clearly spent time perfecting the artist’s very distinctive voice. The play’s main premise – that Hilton converses with his radio (George Haynes) in a surreal pre-dawn version of Desert Island Discs – is amusing and intriguing, though it does take rather an age for Hilton to wake up and get round to turning the radio on.
Things pick up when he recalls his early days as a student in Paris. Suddenly, bedbound Hilton stands up straight and returns to those optimistic times, when he really appreciated the curves of a beautiful life model.
We could do with a bit more of these sprightlier memoirs, perhaps, but it’s not long before Hilton is crawling back into bed again, and being visited by the DTs in the form of a nightmarish creature that haunts his night-time visions.
Set designer Ken McClymont has stuck to the unvarnished truth – evidenced in photographs – in kitting out the room with an array of rubbish, tat and empties.
It’s a credit to Frost’s performance that the paintings that appear in the closing slide-show of Hilton’s work feel so familiar, having heard from the man himself about how key pieces came to be painted.
Although it has its longeurs, this is a very clever concept and offers some poignant insights into the finale of a great artist’s life.
• The Old Red Lion Theatre,418 St John Street, London EC1V 4NJ. 0844 412 4307
Until 6th February 2016
Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30pm
Saturday matinees 2.30pm
Sunday matinees 3pm