H-O-T-B-O-I
Soho Theatre + Writersí Centre, London W1
Opened 16 November, 2004
****

On the Edinburgh Fringe in August, Tim Fountain switched from playwright to performer with a solo show about his sex addiction, complete with practical demonstrations of Internet chat-up.  Now hereís a play by Fountain about a gay affair begun via a Web site. Many details are only thinly disguised from those offered up in the earlier show.  Well, if you can use the same material twice, why not? Itís good husbandry.

But whereas Sex Addict was a fairly blatant tactic by a writer fed up with being behind the scenes and eager for some notoriety himself, H-O-T-B-O-I is the kind of writing at which he excels.  Itís a solo show: heís done several of those, both original and adaptations of othersí books or journalistic pieces.  Here, the performer is the wonderful Bette Bourne, who played Quentin Crisp in Fountainís 1999 work Resident Alien.

Iíve long been a huge fan of Bourneís.  In checked shirt and denim, heís much less flamboyant here than usual, but his mastery of deadpan camp is evident right from the opening line: ďThereís nothiní íe likes more than a flounce!Ē  Similarly, his memory for lines isnít rock-solid, but he can fumble around in such a natural way, working the audience all the while, that the lack of pinpoint accuracy doesnít matter.

Bourne plays sixtysomething Reg, who cheats on his long-term boyfriend after discovering the joy of online sex chat.  Itís not a moral, or an immoral, tale of depravity, although thereís a lot of specific detail. (If itís not too rude, let me put it this way: its original title was Deep Rimming In Poplar.)  Thereís also a wealth of local colour that sets the play firmly on Fountainís (and, indeed, my) West London doorstep.

Above all, Fountain (although barely 40) has since his earliest days been gifted at writing about the poignancies of ageing. This play is no exception.  So, itís got sentiment, humour, sex, love and downright filth, all within the space of 70 minutes, and in a solo show to boot. Plus another seemingly effortless, low-key yet electrifying portrayal from the great Bette Bourne.  Who could ask for anything more?

Written for Teletext.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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