Review – Rock – Oval House Theatre

Friday 30 May 2008

Rock is a play of two halves.

It has an interval.

But that’s rather too simplistic. It’s much more profound than that.

For, curiously, Bette Bourne appears to have memorised his Act 2 lines but has not yet got around to mastering the ones in Act 1. Most peculiar.

Does he perhaps learn them backwards? A twist on the old anecdote about Claudette Colbert sheepishly telling Noel Coward that she “knew her lines backwards yesterday” and him retorting, “And that’s just the way you’re saying them today”.

Andrew’s grandmother used to read the final chapters of her Agatha Christie books first. But that was different: she didn’t work towards the front chapter by chapter. That would be silly. A bit like Memento. Except that that was actually very good.

Oh dear, a week on the fringe is doing Andrew’s head in. Hurry home Phil so that Andrew’s week-long West End curfew can be lifted and he can once again settle comfortably in front of a proscenium arch.

Anyway, in the meantime it has not been all bleak evenings. Indeed, Andrew has been hob-nobbing with a cross-section of first- and second-string cultural arbiters. Yes, due to a horrible mix-up, poor Natasha ended up with Andrew as her “plus one” for the press night of Rock at the Oval House.

Andrew was like a pig in anything-by-Yasmina Reza, air-kissing the staff and calling everyone “darling” and directing the odd, barbed comment hither and thither which seems to be the custom among theatre critics.

Unfazed, the redoubtable Ian Shuttleworth (“dear, dear Shutters” as Andrew insists on fondly calling him) engaged in some witty banter, Michael Coveney looked completely nonplussed, if not embarrassed, and Nicholas De Jongh affected not to see Andrew at all when he grinned and waved merrily in his direction. Oh, what a tease, that man is*.

Anyway, Andrew soared majestically above what could easily have been misinterpreted as snubs. Or, to be more accurate, didn’t really care as there was FREE CHAMPAGNE and a FREE programme (although a free black and white photocopied A4 sheet isn’t quite the same as being given a free embossed one from the Theatre Royal Haymarket which pitifully is one of Phil’s most ambitious dreams).

Further thrills were to come in the auditorium itself.

There were a smattering of “Reserved” notices on some of the seats (and on which no-one sat, so who they were reserved for we shall never know) but one seat explicitly pronounced “Reserved for Nicholas De Jongh” – and it was typed and laminated and everything! Andrew thought it was rather ungrateful of NDJ to move seats after the interval.

So, yes, all in all a very agreeable evening.

Oh, and the play. Yes. Actually quite good. It’s a two-hander telling the story of Henry Willson, the agent who discovered a squeaky-voiced Illinois hick called Roy Fitzgerald and transformed him into the male sex symbol of his generation – Rock Hudson.

Hudson is played by Michael Xavier (“It’s a fantastic play and I’m sure will be a great success. Catch it in its early days. Plus, I take all my clothes off!!!”) and Willson by Bloolips legend Bette Bourne. Both characters are gay and both find themselves squirming to avoid exposure by the fifties gutter press.

Tim Fountain‘s script is witty and moving and knowing (“You didn’t have to learn the whole lot,” berates Willson when Hudson reports proudly that he has learned all his lines for Magnificent Obsession, “It’s not the fucking theatre”. Quite ironic really). There’s some interesting stuff about the melding of fact and fiction.

But it’s the second act which really delivers as Willson – crushed beneath the pressure of the press – descends into alcoholism, is deserted by Hudson and – as we learn – dies penniless at a relatively young age.

Bourne delivers a superb performance, quite disturbingly convincing and – had it not been for the fact that Xavier’s trousers were irritatingly too short for most of the play – Andrew would have been quite moved.

A nod to designer Morgan Large, too. To see a real set at the Oval House is exciting enough; to see one with a hallway behind the door is quite sans pareil.

*Strange to see NDJ at this kind of thing. Poor old Mountford usually gets this kind of gig, but as it turned out it was quite fortunate as the director Tamara Harvey had, by coincidence, directed De Jongh’s Plague Over England. Some sub-editor has given his review the title “Macho The Day For Rock” so don’t be too harsh.

One Response to “Review – Rock – Oval House Theatre”


  1. And, as former Bush Theatre supremo Mike Bradwell remarked at this venue just across the road from the cricket ground, “Everybody tonight’s bowling from the gasworks end.”


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