BAC, London SW11
Opened 2 December, 2009

Amanda Lawrence is one of our finest comic actresses. A generation ago she would have had her own television series, but today, when even merely pretty actors are professionally damned for not being beautiful, she is restricted to occasional character roles. Still, the screen’s loss is the stage’s gain, even if the stage is as intimate as that of the Recreation Room at BAC.
Lawrence only has to put on a pair of round spectacles and pull a face of mild distaste and she becomes Charles Hawtrey, one of the most beloved of the actors from the Carry On series of comedy films of the 1950s–70s. But her solo show, rather than being a simple re-creation and tribute, examines the gap between the amiable screen persona and the embittered, alcoholic man behind it. Hawtrey seldom either got a square deal or appreciated what he did get. From his early decision to change his name from Hartree and encourage the notion that he was the son of actor-manager Sir Charles Hawtrey, to typecasting in Will Hay films, a number of lean years during which he turned to drink for solace, and further stereotyping in the Carry Ons as well as being criminally underpaid, through a series of homosexual scandals including a fire at his home in Deal, Kent, when his teenage lover was in bed with him, the oppression of life with his mother who declined from pushy, vulgar, penny-pinching stage-mum into senile dementia, to his death because he refused to allow his legs to be amputated to save him from smoking-related gangrene, Hawtrey’s was anything but a life of fairy-tale stardom.
Lawrence plays some 50-odd (sometimes very odd) parts in the 80-minute show, making a comic virtue out of rushing from one seat to another to take all three parts in a conversation or using ridiculous props such as a panto version of a marshal’s hat and a supermarket trolley to impersonate Laurence Olivier being driven in his Rolls-Royce to play the Duke of Wellington on a neighbouring studio lot to Hawtrey. It is a testimony to her skill, and that of director Paul Hunter, that she strikes such an astute balance between humour and poignancy, never mining the former nor yet falling into tears-of-a-clown cliché.
Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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