by Tim Fountain.
Starring Bette Bourne.
Directed by Tamara Harvey
Designed by Morgan Large.
bette bourne as henry wilson
michael xavier as roy fitzgerald (rock hudson)
Rock is co-commissioned by Homotopia and Glasgay! Funded by Arts Council England.
Oval House Theatre
Rock Hudson was the biggest screen idol in 1950's LA - the ultimate Hollywood hunk. But his career was perpetually under threat from Confidential Magazine, every gay actor's nemesis: and only one man stood between stardom and oblivion. Rock is the story of Henry Willson, the man who made a star of Rock Hudson; the most unscrupulous agent in Los Angeles; the man who would do anything to protect his money-spinning protégé.
Starring the incomparable Bette Bourne and written by Tim Fountain - the team
behind Resident Alien, the hit play about Quentin Crisp - Rock brings the seamy
world of 1950's Hollywood to vivid life.
Tim Fountain’s fascinating, apparently true-life play views the dilemma of being gay in 1950s Hollywood from the differing perspectives of Roy Fitzgerald, a hick young man who aspires to be a film star, and Henry Willson, a famous agent, who triumphantly subjects him to a Pygmalion-like process of change. Tamara Harvey’s sensitively nuanced production, enhanced by a sombre Edward Hopperish office and Hockneyish pop art view of Hollywood designed by Morgan Large, creates just the right mood. When young Roy, played by Michael Xavier, appears in Willson’s office, he seems about as much male sex-symbol material as Kenneth Williams. He is high-voiced, physically awkward and tentative. Yet Willson, the maestro of abrasive, outspoken cynicism in the charismatic, comic performance of Bette Bourne sees movie potential in his looks and physique. The business of converting Roy Fitzgerald into Rock Hudson, of making the cissie-boy butch, is accomplished in over-compressed scenes of high comedy. Xavier, a real theatrical discovery, charts the masculinisation procedure with convincing assurance. The impassive Willson, to whom Bourne lends the perfect air of closeted misanthropy, revels in showing Rock how to walk tall and speak with low-voiced confidence. Thanks to Willson’s publicising flair, Rock is quickly launched upon his career as a star, though it is not long before he consents to marriage to stem the tide of malign whispers. Fountain conveys a vivid impression of the witch-hunting, McCarthyite times, with gay male stars under surveillance. Yet he needs to probe deeper and explain more about the impact of 1950s homophobia on the two men and their private lives. There are psychological, sexual and political matters left unexplored in this evocation of a Hollywood that 50 years on still keeps gay stars in closets.
Nicholas De Jongh, Evening Standard — 30th May 2008
The title of Tim Fountain's two-hander is ambiguous. Does it refer to the movie star Rock Hudson, the 50s housewife's pin-up who never admitted to his homosexuality, and who died of Aids in 1985? Or is the rock of the title the Hollywood agent Henry Wilson, who discovered Hudson and transformed him from the gawky Illinois hick, Roy Fitzgerald, into the highest-paid star in the world, in the process both ruthlessly exploiting his client and protecting him from the FBI and Confidential Magazine, who were determined to out Rock as gay? Wilson was Rock's rock, until he gradually crumbled away, his reputation eroded by drink and scandal. Wilson is played by Bette Bourne, who crumbles better than any actor I know. It is as if he is collapsing from the inside out. Entire landslides take place on his face during the course of a single sentence. He captures Wilson's essential sharkiness ("I find out what the market wants and I deliver it") and then makes you want to take the shark home and look after it.
To be honest, Fountain's play looks more like an outline than a play itself. But although thin, it is entertaining enough as we watch Michael Xavier's reedy-voiced Roy become macho Rock, posing as an Oscar statuette in gold body paint to get the media's attention and then trying to throw them off the scent of his sexuality by marrying Wilson's secretary, Phyllis. Like the body paint, Fountain's script is all glitter and not enough substance. Bourne supplies the latter, but with a more robust script this might have been a piercing look at celebrity, homophobia and the relationship between a modern Frankenstein and his monster.
Lyn Gardiner, Guardian — 9th June 2008