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24 August 2011

By Susan Hallissey 

As soon as I walked into the theatre area at the Half Moon in Herne Hill, I was transported by the music, seating and lighting to a nostalgic time of ‘50’s and ‘60’s jazz music. I could have sat and relaxed and enjoyed the ambience even before the show started.

The scene was set however for the true story of the artist Roger Hilton CBE In Eddie Elks’ Botallack O’Clock.  A man I was not familiar with, yet many will recognise his story of a touching, moving and, at times, funny descent into the complex and often fatal world that is alcoholism.

Hilton was played by the enigmatic Dan Frost. I had not even noticed him curled up on the bed surrounded by booze, paint, note pads, cigarettes and a litany of other essentials that Hilton kept by his bedside as his health declined with the aid of alcohol. Frost moved gracefully in the opening scenes lighting a cigarette with a pirouette, his hands those of a refined artist. His voice surprised me at first, but soon I was caught up in Hilton’s ‘Botallack O’Clock’ - an hour between three and four am where sleep eludes him.

Hilton enters into a conversation with his cunning radio (voiced by Mark Knightley) and by going through a list of ‘Desert Island Discs’ we get a glimpse of his life.  When Hilton’s first choice of Beethoven is played it was a touching and poignant moment, made all the more so by Frost who captures perfectly the pathos of Hilton’s decline.

Letters and notes that Hilton wrote to his wife are used to humorous effect and as Hilton mocks ‘Blue Peter’, he later asks ‘let me not be mad’ from Shakespeare’s  ‘King Lear’. We see a man caught in a struggle, a battle with himself and his demons, some which come to haunt him later in the evening to hilarious and dramatic effect. Frost is captivating throughout the time we spend with him in the ‘Botallack O’Clock.’

The sadness of the struggling artist and the destruction and isolation of the disease of alcoholism has been captured here to great effect.  This is in no doubt due to the consideration the writer Eddie Elks has given his subject along with his direction.

The Half Moon has me mesmerized and with productions like this I can’t wait to return!

The Half Moon, Herne Hill until 27th  
August 8.00pm

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