After tackling a sporting icon in Grav, Torch Theatre Company now turn their attention to a legend of the screen. Charles Hawtrey was one of the original members of the Carry On troupe, delighting audiences alongside other great comedians such as Joan Simms, Kenneth Williams and Sid James. But as Dave Ainsworth’s darkly funny play suggests, this was by no means a happy family.
Instead, what we have in Oh Hello! is the story of a man who thought himself to be in the shadow of his more successful peers. As the franchise grew in popularity, so too did Hawtrey’s insecurities and, eventually, a descent into alcoholism. All of that emotional baggage is poured on to the stage in an astonishing performance from Jamie Rees, who captures all of Hawtrey’s humour, pathos and tragedy with great success. He’s helped by a wonderful script from Ainsworth that pays tribute to the rest of the Carry On cast without ever falling into nostalgia or exposition.
Completing the triangle is director Peter Doran. It would be safe to assume that Rees had a lot of input into the development of the character, but where Doran really excels is his use of sound and lighting. The play starts in dim light, an eerily dream-like state that perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the performance. Nothing is complicated here – the beauty of the play is in the simplicity with which it’s handled. The focus is on Rees throughout, and he duly delivers.
Oh Hello! makes its way to Edinburgh this summer. How well-attended smaller shows like this are at the Fringe is always difficult to judge, but it’s a show that deserves to be seen. Solid direction enhances a brilliant script, but it’s Jamie Rees who rightly stands out in this exceptional production.