Guest reviewer: Ellen Casey
From the moment Willy came out on stage clothed in nothing but a pink towel and double nipple rings I knew I was in for a treat. For the next hour I watched rapt as he by turns interrogated the gendered sexual structures of his community, described his sexual (and culinary) misfortunes and bopped around to Beyoncé in a mirrored jacket. Even so, I’m slightly hard pressed to describe exactly what Bottom is about; its loose, stream-of-consciousness structure lends it a refreshing, organic feel, but doesn’t help with categorisation. It’s a personal story – it’s a political story – it’s really, really funny.
Sometimes one-man shows – even stand up – are a little bit of a struggle to watch. It takes a very magnetic kind of performer to hold an audience’s attention for an hour or more, without any wandering minds starting a list for dinner or thinking about who might be emailing them. Luckily, Willy Hudson was so charismatic from literally the second that he entered the room that it made writing this review harder than it should have been – I was so involved in what was happening on stage that I kept forgetting to keep an eye out for what to actually write about it. His dry humour, ability to switch tone at the drop of a hat, uncontrived vulnerability and dancing skills were all pitch perfect, and made for an incredibly engaging hour.
That isn’t to say he hasn’t worked hard for it. Bottom comes off as effortless, but Willy is everywhere on stage – here he is playing the ukulele and singing about Tinder, here he is dancing frenetically to Beyoncé, here he is using audio clips of Mary Berry to express his sexual anxieties. The range of comedy bits, multimedia aspects and pure energy that has been put into this production is impressive, and the work has really paid off.
The play is called Bottom and that is the general theme – the obsession humans have with categorisation and the barriers that holds to intimacy. There are lessons to be imparted here, and Willy pops up to the microphone to edify us every so often – what a yellow handkerchief meant in the 70s was an eye-opening one for me – but at its heart this is a personal journey, and it’s a classic one. Willy is looking for love in the big city.
Yes, there are modern additions to the time-honoured tale – a casual drug habit, frank discussions of erectile dysfunction and a boss whose homophobia comes in the form of a proud declaration of her ‘fag hag’ status – but the anxieties and the optimism strike a very familiar chord. One of the things that Bottom has got very right is that it touches on emotions and fears that everyone has. If you’ve ever lived in a big city, worked in customer service, been desperate for connection – there is something you will relate to in Bottom.
There are things that could be tighter here – a discussion with the sound technician feels extraneous for example – but honestly it was a total joy to watch, deserving every inch of the standing ovation we gave it at the end – and I was one of the first on my feet.
My verdict? Side-splittingly funny with a tender heart – a genuine treat.
Bottom ran at the Pleasance as part of the Caledonian Express (reviewed 12 October 2018).