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Rock and roll Hollywood style

PUBLISHED: 18:07 12 June 2008 | UPDATED: 17:23 16 August 2010

THE unique atmosphere and home cooked food are enough to ensure a pleasant visit to the Oval House, and ROCK by Tim Fountain is a diverting look at the making of

THE unique atmosphere and home cooked food are enough to ensure a pleasant visit to the Oval House, and ROCK by Tim Fountain is a diverting look at the making of one of Hollywood's greatest stars, writes Edward Martyn.

Morgan Large has provided an excellent set, representing an agent's office in Tinsel Town overlooking the famous Sunset Strip, with impressionistic freeways glowing in the dark outside a large window.

Inside is the rubicund, but rather owlish figure of Henry Wilson (Bette Bourne) the successful Hollywood agent to a clutch of male stars, all with suspiciously catchy names like Tab Hunter.

Into this high power environment wanders Roy Harold Scherer Jr. from Winnetka, Illinois.

Spotted waiting table at a film industry party Henry alternately woos and bullies him into signing an exclusive contract and changing his name to Rock Hudson (chosen with the help of a map of the U.S.)

Bette Bourne hits just the right note of playful conspirator and mocking mentor to Michael Xavier's gawky, high-voiced Roy, and soon has him lowering his voice (by administering a damaging linctus) to make him appear more masculine and attractive to a female audience.

It is only after Rock becomes a superstar that the problems start to pile up on Henry's desk.

The phone rings, and the FBI have been told to pursue Rock after constant rumours about his sexual partners (all men) have been passed on by the committee for un-American activities.

This could mean the end of a glittering career, and it takes all of Henry's guile and double-dealing to head off this disaster.

He persuades Rock to marry Phyllis, his loyal secretary, to scotch the rumours and, after a glitzy wedding all seems to be well until he slides back to his old ways and Phyllis sues for divorce...

There are some great one-liners in this show.

When Roy fails his screen test a desperate Henry spray paints him gold to represent the Oscar statue and they gate-crash the awards, Roy demurs that this might demean the great actors who have been honoured with the award - Henry quips "Oscar Schmoska - so's Mickey Mouse".

He advises against acting classes - "Acting lessons are s**t - it's just failed actors teaching other actors".

His homespun philosophy triumphs in the short term, but the pressures of the movie industry and the sheer greed and deviousness of the inhabitants of L.A. finally lead him to an alcoholic breakdown.

Rock leaves him "for both our good" and the abyss beckons. Rock returns when all hope is gone, and offers money to ensure that Henry takes his secrets to the grave.

It is a sobering look at people who have abandoned the wholesome principles given to them at home and school, for the chance to Live The Dream in Hollywood.

This may not be a great play, but director Tamara Harvey has proved once again that she can get the best out of unpromising material, and Bette Bourne and Michael Xavier inhabit their characters in stunning fashion leaving many telling images and disturbing truths.

* ROCK is at the Oval House Theatre, Kennington until June 21, call the box office on 020 7582 7680.

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