By Eric Scott
Hancock’s Last Half Hour
By Heathcote Williams
The Blood Donor
Ray Galton and Alan Simpson
Directed by William McCreery-Rye
Centenary Theatre Group
Chelmer Community Hall
Corner of Halsbury and Queenscroft Streets
Season runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays until June 5. Duration: two hours approx including interval. Bookings: centenarytheatre.com.au or 0435 591 720
I saw David Bell play the role of British comedian Tony Hancock in this pair of plays around 20 years ago. I watched him reprise the role this week and not much has changed. Heathcote Williams’ imagining of Hancock’s Last Half Hour is still a gripping and desperately sad tale of the last hours of a comedy superstar before he committed suicide in a Sydney hotel room in June 1968.
Those who remember Hancock are a diminishing breed, but don’t let the fact that you’ve never heard of the man put you off seeing the show. The first is a story that could apply to many a showbiz star that will keep you enthralled, the other, The Blood Donor, will leave you in chuckling good humour.
Those 20 years haven’t dimmed Bell’s insight into the role nor his delivery in this, for any actor, harrowing 45 minute solo act. In a nicely bleak hotel room littered with debris and Vodka bottles we watched the man who was once the funniest man alive, disintegrate into a desperate, despairing shadow after a stage show with a new character that was condemned by his audience. His dream of life after his abandoned original creators Galton and Simpson was shattered. We were invited into his finale hours as he relived his life, the good bits and the bad. There were flashes of his old self that brought a laugh break into his destructive thought process. But we grieved for the man.
Bell’s performance is excellent, well-timed, evenly paced and utterly believable.
But the bigger surprise was to come in the second act, The Blood Donor, one of the most popular of the Galton and Simpson TV programs. For Bell it was off with the gloom and into the sunshine as he portrayed he would-be hero offering to donate blood for the first time.
The switch was dazzling as he recreated the original lad from Railway Cutting, East Cheam, with all the bounce of a bombastic man, strong in opinion and self-praise. The swelled head grew even bigger when he discovered he was in a rare blood group and the laughs came faster. Bell’s comic timing was on show and he milked every comedy line.
Of course there were many of those. Despite the fact that the script is 60 years old it is still hilarious and somehow still relevant. We all know someone like Tony Hancock the blood donor.
Bell was aided and abetted by an assortment of characters played with panache by Petra Donnison, Richard Edwards, Alizah Pomery, Julia Carroll and Alan Brown.
The pace of the show however was marred towards the end of The Blood Donor with some over-long scene changes. There was no need to remove tables and chairs from the set. The changes could have been done much more efficiently with lighting.
However, all in all it was a couple of well enjoyed theatrical hours.