Jiggery Pokery: A Homage to Charles Hawtrey

Amanda Lawrence in Jiggery Pokery

Amanda Lawrence in Jiggery Pokery. Image by Sadie Lee

Battersea Arts Centre, 1 – 19 December 2009

Reviewed for the British Theatre Guide

My opinion might not count for much in this situation, since my knowledge of Charles Hawtrey is limited to an afternoon spent watching videos of him on YouTube, but I think it’s safe to say that in this one-woman show, Amanda Lawrence’s revivification of the troubled Carry On actor, is spot on (though her Sidney James could use work).

There’s already a remarkable physical resemblance on which to found this living portrait. With her hair untidily pinned back and the addition of a severe pair of wire-rimmed glasses, the likeness is complete. Add to that the morosely downturned edges of the mouth, the gawky physicality, the distinctively pneumatic method of smoking a cigarette, and a captivating and lifelike presence is born.

Not that Lawrence is limited to playing Hawtrey (though this imitation is, as it should be, the show’s crowning glory). The programme lists a cast of nearly sixty, every one played by Lawrence in under 90 minutes; on one occasion she plays all three participants in a rapid-fire conversation, frantically tying, untying and re-tying the bandanna that denotes the headmistress of Hawtrey’s schooldays.

A single prop or costume item, a voice and a subtle alteration to Lawrence’s physicality are all that’s required to demarcate the majority of the roles. The speed of her transitions from role to role are one major source of the show’s humour, the other being material from Hawtrey’s many cinematic outings, including his early Will Hay pictures and several of the Carry On films.

In fact, the borrowed Carry On dialogue serves its best dramatic purpose when inserted incongruously into particularly unamusing episodes from Hawtrey’s private life, including the descent of his mother into dementia and his own unglamorous death. Re-enacting bawdy lines from Carry On Doctor as he writhes in agony in a hospital bed reflects both his love-hate relationship with the films that made him famous and the tragicomic duality of his life as a whole: a much-loved comic gem in public, but a bitter, unpopular drunk in private.

Jiggery Pokery is a success on both a theatrical and an emotional level. It’s a reminder of just how much can be achieved onstage through the craft of a single talented performer, but also an homage to a complicated individual that manages to be neither sentimental nor judgmental.

Written by Paul Hunter and Amanda Lawrence

Crew includes Paul Hunter (director), Billy Hiscoke (stage manager), Cathy Wren (designer) and Jules Maxwell (composer)

Cast includes Amanda Lawrence (Charles Hawtrey, amongst others)

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