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Jiggery Pokery

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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This skillfully performed homage to Carry On star Charles Hawtrey arrives at the BAC fresh from its acclaimed premiere as part of Liverpool's Homotopia Festival last month.

As always with hyped-up transfers, it's difficult to keep your expectations to a reasonable level, but suffice it to say there is more than enough surprise and slapstick charm in Amanda Lawrence's virtuoso performance to warrant the ballyhoo.

Lawrence plays over 50 characters – ranging from an elephant to Barbara Windsor – over the course of the evening, as well as depicting Hawtrey himself with almost freakish accuracy. As her subject slides further into alcoholism and fantasy, so the set around her becomes increasingly disheveled as she throws around costumes, upends tables, and tears down lamps.

Directed by Told by an Idiot's Paul Hunter (who discovered Lawrence's likeness to Hawtrey whilst rehearsing The Firework Makers Daughter in 2004), Jiggery Pokery mixes biographical detail with immensely creative physicality to paint an almost comic-book portrait of Hawtrey, the most elusive of the Carry On gang.

Stand-out moments include his first meeting with Madame Conti, his early mentor, and a frantic death-bed finale in which Hawtrey is haunted by the ghosts of his biggest influences, including 'theatrical knight' Sir Charles Hawtrey, from whom he took his name.

The dialogue is sharp as a razor – when the nauseatingly enthusiatic leader of the local 'Carry On appreciation society' pitches up on Hawtrey's doorstep, there's no bell. “He's got a knocker” he squeals, “course he's got a knocker!”.

And all the while, whenever Lawrence dons the round spectacles and adopts the thin-lipped, turtle-like expression that was Hawtrey's signature, it becomes increasingly clear that this is a rare case of perfect casting.

Although I left questioning whether my picture of Hawtrey was much more detailed than the one I went in with, the show is perhaps best appreciated for what it is: a masterpiece in quick-change character acting from an actress who, like her subject, has too long been a supporting star.

- Theo Bosanquet

NOTE: The following FOUR STAR review dates from November 2009, and this production's premiere at Liverpool's Unity Theatre

Taking on the role of one this country’s most treasured figures is a daunting task for any actor or actress, never mind several. But this is exactly what actress Amanda Lawrence is faced with in Jiggery Pokery – A Homage to Charles Hawtrey.

Essentially, this world premiere production in Liverpool is centred around Hawtrey of Carry On fame, whom the actress strikes an undoubted resemblance to, but in the show Lawrence plays a number of people who have worked with him, inspired him, or simply just wanted to meet him.

From Far Eastern tourists to the local pub landlord, Sid James to even Laurence Olivier, Lawrence slips in and out of each character with aplomb. There are those who are associated even more closely to the English eccentric who feature on more than one occasion.

Amongst them is theatrical giant of the early 1900s, Sir Charles Hawtrey, whom Carry On Hawtrey adopted his name from at a younger age, when he was known as George Frederick Joffre Hartree.

Then there is filmmaker Will Hay and, not least of all, his mother. Lawrence and director Paul Hunter have taken a keen interest in his relationship with his mother, who suffered senile dementia and would often cause havoc by – quite funnily captured in the show – mistakenly cooking the neighbour’s cat at one point. Hawtrey had his mother living at his home in Deal and Lawrence and Hunter put emphasis on the strain this must have caused the comedy actor.

Those wishing for a little slapstick found in the Carry On films will not leave disappointed as Lawrence superbly mimes to sound recordings of Carry On Sergeant, Carry On Again Doctor, and Carry On Camping, as Hawtrey, and the others in his scenes. Equally brilliant is a scene Lawrence mimes from an earlier Will Hay film, The Goose Steps Out.

Throughout the performance Lawrence uses props such as a piece of card as a door leading into Hawtrey’s home or a shopping trolley as a cab. By the end of the show, the open stage resembles Hawtrey’s life in many ways – a complete mess. So much of his professional and personal life is crammed in to an hour and half, one is left almost as exhausted as Lawrence.

His addiction to alcohol and smoking comes to light in a scene which mixes Carry On-style comedy with intense drama before Lawrence finishes dressed as an elegant lady, looking every inch like Hawtrey’s alter ego.

- Michael Hunt


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