Review: Oh Hello!, The Riverfront, Newport

The Edinburgh Fringe success Oh Hello! starring Jamie Rees as Carry On film actor Charles Hawtrey played to a full Riverfront studio on Tuesday evening. 

As everyone was seated, the lights dimmed and Rees, a total embodiment of Hawtrey in stature, looks and mannerisms, made an entrance through the theatre door. Entering into conversation with the audience before enquiring what they were there to see, the lights dimmed again and Rees reappeared on stage as Hawtrey, regaling stories about his career between moderated sips from a whisky glass.

Wonderfully rude, controversial, but constantly lovable, Rees’ presentation of Dave Ainsworth’s script peeled away the veneer of Charles Hawtrey – the film comic, as he discussed battling for top billing in the 1960s Carry On films and facing total loneliness and rejection at his home  in Deal, Kent during the 1980s. Frustrated with his career following his 1930s glory days working with Will Hay and Alfred Hitchcock, the drama also touched upon Hawtrey’s spiraling alcoholism and homosexuality in a period when such acts were deemed illegal.

Hawtrey’s study of the whisky bottle he raises to the audience soon becomes a self evaluation, comparing the delightfulness on the outside to the wickedness within. As the drama unfolds, the audience sees more of Hawtrey’s wickedness, a reaction to his Carry On co-stars, particularly Kenneth Williams, of whom Rees delivered a superb impersonation.

A must-see for all comedy fans, Oh Hello! finally lies to rest any misconceptions about Hawtrey’s personality and private life. Presented sympathetically and honestly, one even felt Hawtrey himself would have approved.

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