The life and death of a silver screen star

By Myron My

It always seems to shock us when celebrities die. They exude a sense of invincibility that we are not as lucky to own. So when beloved movie legend Rock Hudson died in 1985 from an AIDS-related illness, the grief was on a grand scale. Such was the effect of his death that the US government doubled its funding towards AIDS research.

In his debut play, Playing Rock Hudson, Cameron Lukey looks at how Hudson’s diagnosis affected his relationships with close friends, such as Elizabeth Taylor (Odette Galbally), and also his secret romances and loves. On a deeper level, it also looks at the stigma attached to what was then referred to as ‘gay cancer’ and how Hudson’s diagnosis played a pivotal role in future research into and attitudes towards the illness.

Playing Rock Hudson_ Photo Pia Johnson

Some of the casting selections are questionable but Bartholomew Walsh as Rock Hudson is truly the perfect choice. He has the smouldering looks and physique of Hudson, and his performance of the character’s inner turmoil and showy bravado is well balanced. There is an old brat-pack Hollywood appeal to Walsh that Lukey was very fortunate to find.

With the cast playing a variety of characters there is every possibility that the story may get lost in the confusion of who is who when, but it works well here for the most part. In particular, Andrew Carolane and Sam Lavery made notable and then lasting impressions with their ability to play the nuances of their different characters convincingly. It is however problematic to have Walsh portray any other character but Hudson. He is our leading man and as such, needs to hold onto that power. Making him switch characters lessened his credibility.

Much of Playing Rock Hudson is told after Hudson’s death and based around a court room with Hudson’s ex-lover, Marc Christian (Shane Savage) seeking compensation for Hudson’s non-disclosure of his illness. I enjoyed Lukey’s direction and there are a number of well-timed and balanced monologues and confessionals by the various people involved in Hudson’s life. The story is elegantly paced and the intrigue and the tension remain constant throughout.

Playing Rock Hudson is a poignant love story of life and death and with the rate of HIV diagnosis’ gradually increasing, it is very much a story that still needs to be told.

Venue: Malthouse Theatre, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank

Season: Until 4 December | Tues-Wed, Sat 8:00pm, Thurs-Fri 7:00pm, Sat 3pm*, Sun 5:30pm

*The November 30 performance will be a benefit show, with half the ticket price going to the Victorian AIDS Council.

Tickets: $35 Full | $30 Conc

Bookings: 9685-5111 or