As Kenneth Tynan famously remarked of Noël Coward: ‘Forty years ago he was Slightly in Peter Pan, and you might say that he has been wholly in Peter Pan ever since’. Nothing to do with Charles Hawtrey (of Carry On fame), except that the quip rather sums up the tragicomic thrust of Jiggery Pokery: An Homage to Charles Hawtrey.
Amanda Lawrence’s one-woman evocation of Hawtrey delicately skewers the man’s insecurity, self-regard and collapse into self-pitying fury. A child actor who grows disillusioned and grows old without ever growing up, Lawrence as Hawtrey obsessively replays the defining moments of his stage and film career, frantically determined to play all the plum roles him/herself, but unable to change the outcome of a life emaciated by ambition, lovelessness and mistrust.
Jiggery Pokery is an homage to a certain type of British theatre: that anecdotal Neverland of eccentric actor-managers and tatty glamour, of greasepaint and tantrums and old-fashioned magic. ‘Stage Door. Holborn Empire. Bring tights.’ ripely enunciates the young Charles’ theatrical mentor, provoking ripples of sympathetic delight from a crowd clearly not immune to the frisson-inducing prospect of proper dramatic hosiery.
It’s also a story of mothers and children, the child’s egoistic determination to fly away permanently thwarted by a parent’s querulous and persistent grasp upon their ankle. Lawrence’s portrayal of mother and son, dependant and resentful mirror-images, is masterly in its minute dreadfulness. And her scrupulously ghoulish performance invites the audience to examine the wounds the two inflict upon each other with an impartial eye.
This unconventional bio-drama is like a macabre inversion of the usual Christmas theatre outing. Peter and the Lost Boys are all present and correct, as is Tinkerbell, cross-dressing, song and dance, and even a transformation scene. But Lawrence’s deadpan clowning sets the tone for a bitter tale of innocence bartered for fame. This isn’t Peter Pan, and all the laughter in the world won’t bring back the past, or offer second chances at a life squandered.