Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

“Jamie Rees sparkling...subtlety of Peter Doran’s direction”

Wales at Edinburgh Fringe

The Torch- On Hello! , Assembly George Square Studios , August-20-16
Wales at Edinburgh Fringe by The Torch- On Hello! From “the Edinburgh Guide” 6th August

"Immortalised by a franchise whose comedy is an iconic staple of British culture, the life and strife of the late Charles Hawtrey is reborn onto the stage by the eerily talented Jamie Rees. Bottle in hand and and catchphrases at the ready, the master of comic timing finally gets top billing.

Heard before he is seen, the familiar voice of Charles Hawtrey floats into the room instantly inducing chuckles throughout the packed venue. The under-appreciated star of Carry On confides the inner workings of life on set, talks of his unrecognised contributions to the franchise, all whilst sipping on the elephant in the room - his, eventually fatal, struggle with alcoholism.

Although the number of drinks consumed is lost in conversation, as if nattering to an old friend, the subtlety of Peter Doran’s direction on the matter is not missed. The reputation of Hawtrey’s drinking habit often proceeds him, but in this gradually subdued performance it is addressed in a sombre and touching way that addresses the desperately isolated person behind the problem.

From the first “Oh Hello!” to the last, Rees’ spot on impersonation feels all to real, unintentionally invoking star struck giggles with every witty line. Never wavering from his uncanny portrayal, Rees is able to carry the magnitude of the late star from pompous pride through to his maddeningly solitary end."

From Broadway Baby 14th August

“Charles Hawtrey 1914 -1988 – Film, Theatre, Radio and Television Actor Lived Here.” So reads the plaque where Hawtry (of Carry On fame) resided in Deal, Kent from 1968 until his death. Unlike most of its kind this one is not a source of local pride. Wes Butters, who wrote a biography of Hawtrey in 2010, points out that “the landlord of the local pub will not have a photo of him behind the bar because the customers will not stand for it… They hate him, and it’s understandable. When he arrived the locals would ask him for his autograph but he didn’t like that and would tell them to eff off and rip up their pieces of paper… He would also refer to people down the pub as peasants. ... I’m surprised the plaque hasn’t been egged.”

This is a far cry for the adulation he received from fans of the Carry On films, yet is indicative of his ability to offend, be downright rude and show little concern for others. He lived in a delusional world from the moment he changed his name, if not earlier. Born George Frederick Joffre Hartree, he seized upon its similarity to that of the famous thespian Sir Charles Hawtrey and took his name. It was a case of if not being born great, adopt greatness. However, in his own eyes greatness was always denied him, be it in roles, billings or wages. Then there was the drink.

Alcohol features largely in Jamie Rees’s sparkling reminiscence of Hawtrey’s life, just as it did in reality. The bottle was never far away and Hawtrey was even known to collapse on set after over-drowning his sorrows. This show, however, is more upbeat than most of the reality of Hawtrey life. There is no shortage of humour, be it from the stories, the endless drink pouring, the mincing looks or teetering around on those noisy Cuban heels. Neither is there any shying away from portraying the tortured soul: as the fraught relationships with fellow actors, producers and directors are exposed so is more of the man himself. In relating these, Jamie Rees amusingly draws on his repertoire of voices, most famously that of Kenneth Williams.

From the first “Oh Hello!” to the last, Rees’ spot on impersonation feels all too real, unintentionally invoking star struck giggles with every witty line. Never wavering from his uncanny portrayal, Rees is able to carry the magnitude of the late star from pompous pride through to his maddeningly solitary end.”

Illustration: as Thomas Duckett in Powell & Pressburger's “A Canterbury Tale” (1944)

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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