Writer and Director: Eddie Elks
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
In the early hours, with an evening’s entertainment over and birdsong still awaited, there can exist a sort of vacuum that will suck in strange thoughts. Eddie Elks’ one-act play covers an imagined 70 minutes of such time in the life of artist Roger Hilton (1911-1975), making his thoughts as abstract as his most famous paintings.
Played by Dan Frost, Hilton is both a realist and a fantasist. He has no romantic illusions as to why he has moved his family to the picturesque Cornish coastal village of Botallack – he is there because property is cheap – yet he can quickly turn to playing King Lear with a dancing bear as his Cordelia. He is in his basement studio, with his family asleep in the house above him. Fuelled by detachment and alcohol, his thoughts take on a life of their own.
Elks structures a large part of his play around a dreamed up edition of Desert Island Discs on which Hilton is the guest. The radio presenter (voiced by George Haynes) speaks in precise BBC English and takes on a combative persona that is reminiscent of Hal, the demented computer in 2001:A Space Odyssey.
Hilton expounds on diverse topics, ranging from his love of Paris to his loathing of Blue Peter, and he explains why he believes that the World is perceived differently through the eyes of an artist. Elks’ writing and Frost’s intense portrayal reveal a creative mind that is out of step with everyday life and frustrated by it.
Ken McClymont’s set uses the whole of the Old Red Lion’s space to create a realistic, drab and untidy basement studio, furnished with a single bed, side tables and an old-fashioned wardrobe. Christopher Nairne’s lighting illuminates the fantasy sequences, but, for much of the play, Hilton is seen under a single hanging lamp, surrounded by semi-darkness, creating a lonely image familiar to all of us who have ever woken in the middle of the night.
Directing the play himself, Elks opts for a leisurely pace. Several minutes pass before the first word is spoken, as Hilton stirs from a drunken stupor and gets his bearings. What follows is full of colourful philosophy that, in total, makes no more sense than the ramblings of a drunk ever do. Nonetheless, the writer’s quirky humour and a compelling central performance turn this into an amusing diversion.
Runs until 6 February 2016 | ImageZanna Wharfe