Pros: Fantastic performances. Tremendously educational.
Cons: Poor sightlines from some positions mean that it’s easy to miss details of the set. Botallack O’Clock is a surreal voyage around the mind of abstract artist Roger Hilton. It starts very slowly, and for several minutes the only sound is Hilton’s coughing, as he surfaces from sleep, finds a cigarette and tries to get himself upright. We are in a shabby bedroom that is littered with the evidence of drinking, smoking, painting and not straying very far from the bed. It all looks a bit grimy and depressing, but then Hilton, played with precision and charisma by Dan Frost, finally comes to life. He is querulous, arrogant and self-absorbed in a manner which is enormously funny and much more endearing than it should be.
Things take a trippy turn when Hilton’s radio comes to life and begins to interview him. It’s not a straightforward interview though, because Hilton is a wayward interviewee and the radio is a novice. Through the medium of this warped Q&A we get not so much a biography as a memoir. Hilton is picking through his past, sharing his artistic philosophy (be sincere, trust colour) revisiting happy times, reciting witty rhymes and childish verse, but skirting round anything difficult or uncomfortable. At intervals the delightfully unpredictable (bipolar?) radio falls asleep, leaving Hilton to grumble peevishly about his thirsty cat and inattentive family.
Eddie Elks has based his brilliant play very closely on Hilton’s own writings, recordings and paintings. The vivid quality of that material must have made Elks’ job both easier and more daunting, yet he has succeeded in devising a theatrical experience that doesn’t just showcase the material, but actually creates the universe. Coloured panels light up as different pieces of music operate on Hilton’s mind, lecherous creatures play games with him, the sketch of a naked woman is torn open, and the audience is given a taste of aggressive paranoia.
As a general rule I don’t read programme notes before a show, and I’m particularly glad that I didn’t in this case. Reading the notes after the show all the pieces suddenly slotted in to place and tiny details in the text – like Hilton’s use of poster paint – became significant. Indeed this show has been put together with enormous attention to detail, from the way that Dan Frost maintains his very distinctive, clipped tone of voice and carefully moves his long hands, to the boat that appears as the final image – a luxury that Hilton was not allowed. This is a funny, thought-provoking and informative show. It demonstrates tremendous affection for its eccentric subject without being afraid to reveal his flaws, and I certainly left eager to learn even more about both Roger Hilton and his long-suffering wife.
Author: Eddie Elks
Director: Eddie Elks
Producer: Tom Hackney / Third Man Theatre
Booking until: 6 February 2016
Box office: 0844 412 4307
Booking link: http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/artist/botallack-oclock-tickets/963262