NOTE: The following FOUR-STAR review dates from 21 May 2008 when the production opened in Manchester.
Actor Bette Bourne and writer Tim Fountain had a hit withResident Alien about the eccentric Englishman in New York, Quentin Crisp. Now they team up to explore the seamy world of 1950s Hollywood, exploring the myths behind those iconic hills, in particular, the agent Henry Wilson and his famous clients. This clever, yet manipulative, player was the man behind the likes of Tab Hunter, Troy Donahue and the ill-fated Rock Hudson.
Wilson describes Hollywood as ďgreatest street on the face on the earthĒ, but as a maker of myths, his stars had to abide by the rules. Enter a naÔve, awkward young actor named Roy Fitzgerald. Wilson reminds him that Marion Morrison (aka John Wayne) was never going to make it big in Westerns with that name!
This fascinating, slow-burning tale has some very funny moments. Wilson sprays young Rockís body gold, dressing him up as an Oscar, in order to grab the morning headlines. It works as gawky Roy Fitzgerald becomes the box office gold that is Rock Hudson, before our very eyes.
Bourne is a mesmerising actor, even under-the-weather he turns in a deep performance, as the ageing, spent force that is Wilson. His expressive body language is extraordinary, buckling under the pressures of blackmail and alcoholism.
Fountainís intense two-hander evokes a feeling of claustrophobia as the looming shadow of Senator Joe McCarthy threatens to lift the lid on Wilsonís clients and the celluloid closet in which they inhabit. ďYou live their life for them,Ē Wilson tells Rock, referring to the fans, and begging him to curb his homosexual lifestyle.
As Hudsonís Hollywood star shines brighter, his personal life threatens to kill off his career. But where Fountainís play excels, is that as the young actor grows in confidence, Wilsonís life becomes unbearable. The puppet master becomes the one whose strings are mercilessly yanked, and this makes the play incredibly poignant.
Tamara Harveyís direction is fairly tight in a play of two contrasting halves, easing you in gently via Wilsonís wicked humour. Rock is an underwritten role, as this is really the agentís story, but Michael Xavier acquits himself well, never completely overshadowed by the mighty Bourne.
Most of what you see, you will already know, but somehow Rock remains a gripping and interesting look at the past, which is not as archaic as you might expect. After all, how many 'out' Hollywood actors can you name?
- Glenn Meads