With Dan Frost and Rhys King
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Surrealism collides with abstract expressionism in Eddie Elks “Botallack O’Clock” currently running at 59E59 Theater C as part of the “Brits Off-Broadway” Festival. Mr. Elks’ dramatic canvas reinvents and reimagines the brush strokes of Roger Hilton’s richly complex life and the result is performance art at its best.
Eddie Elks’ palette includes paint pots full of real interviews with Hilton (Dan Frost), imaginary radio interviews on Desert Island Discs “at the worst time of night,” stream of consciousness, a man in a bear’s costume portraying a female bear (replete with red nails), a wife upstairs who does not respond to Hilton’s call bell, memories, fantasies, nightmares, dreams, crystal clear thoughts, delusional thoughts, and pertinent pedagogy.
All of this splashes on the canvas of the stage with remarkable sensitivity and empathy for Hilton’s craft and for his herculean struggles with the madness of sanity. Actors Mr. Frost and his radio-bear-friend Rhys King create a sensitive tribute to an important figure in the world of art. In so doing, they permit the audience to explore its own struggles with the same madness of sanity. Like Hilton, the audience member “has failing electrical appliances, paper thin walls, and cats drinking his water.” And, like Hilton, the audience member knows “he will carry on anyway, because he must.”
The play ends as it begins with lines from W. S. Graham’s “The Lines on Roger Hilton’s Watch” written following Hilton’s death. These lines have an eerie allusive quality re-membering Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory.” I have not seen any reference to this allusion in other reviews; however, it seems to be fitting: two watches connecting abstract expressionism, surrealism, and the belief of both artists that there is no “fixed cosmic order.” These words from Roger Hilton: “It is your internal life which counts. The outside things, the ephemera, are something to be fended off – like dogs, chickens, or fowls.”
“Botallack O’Clock” is a remarkable and exhilarating foray into the “internal life” of artist Roger Hilton. Its success rests in its honesty, its bravery, and its relevance. Everyone in the audience can see a bit of themselves in Hilton’s attempts to sort out meaning in existence. The points at which laughter rings out are perhaps the most telling and the most serious.