Hancock’s Last Half Hour by Heathcote Williams

"Ladies and gentlemen, I shall now bid you all good day... None of you know what you're looking at. You wait 'til I'm dead, you'll see I was right!" So said Tony Hancock at the end of his 1961 film Rebel. That year was probably the peak of his career, summed up for many in the ‘Blood Donor’ episode of Hancock’s Half Hour. In October, he split from his script-writers, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, some of the finest British comedy writers.

Nothing really goes wrong with this production, but it is a play with no surprises and a well-known ending.

The next seven years were filled with increasing self-doubt, destructive introspection and dependence on vodka. He abandoned friends who had contributed to his success and moved to Australia. Mixed reviews for his new work there contributed to his depressive state and ultimate suicide in 1968 at the age of 44.

We enter Hancock’s disheveled bedroom to find him curled up in bed. As he rises, his drab grey clothes blend perfectly with general gloom. There’s vodka everywhere and a bottle of pills sits ominously on the chest of drawers. Once awake and after a few swigs he begins a series of pessimistic reflections. From time to time he picks up a book of memories, philosophy or trivia, or the the odd newspaper cutting. These act as stimuli for his laments over events and tirades against people. From Sid James to Sigmund Freud, no one is exempt.

Pip Utton successfully conveys the bitterness, anger and sadness that Hancock must have felt in those final moments, but in giving vent to his emotions, the words are sometimes lost in soulful mumblings or raucous rants. There are attempts at humour to lighten the heavy burden, but these lines rarely raise more than a smile or chuckle. Without Hancock’s distinctive voice and self-deprecating presentation they just don’t seem that funny.

After reading the poor reviews of his final performances, he pens a note to his mother saying, "Things seem to have gone wrong just too many times." Nothing really goes wrong with this production, but it is a play with no surprises and a well-known ending. It will mainly appeal to those who look back with nostalgia on the works of a comedian who, without realising, did actually get it right. As he said so many times, “Stone me. What a life!”

Reviews by Richard Beck

PRINT ROOM at THE CORONET

The Outsider (L’Étranger)

★★★★
Upstairs at the Gatehouse

Prairie Flower

★★
Jermyn Street Theatre

About Leo

★★★★
Orange Tree Theatre

Losing Venice

★★★★
The Queen's Theatre

Abi

★★★★
The Queen's Theatre

Abigail's Party

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

‘I left the show with my eyes as moist as oysters. Brilliant’ (Mail on Sunday). Powerful and moving, the legendary comedian’s disintegration during his final hours in a hotel bedroom in Australia. Hancock’s career had made him the most famous comedian of his day, millions tuned in to listen to Hancock’s Half Hour both on the radio and TV. But like many clowns his private life was a disaster. Attempting to resurrect his fading career in Australia, Hancock finally cracks, writes a note to his mum and takes his own life.