by John Hegley
bac (Main theatre) To 30 April 2006
Runs 1hr 55min One interval
Review: Timothy Ramsden 30April
Neatly-crafted combination of wit and reflection.
Who is this insurance man with the individually-combed hair and the book of poems instead of a policy to sell? Do we believe all he tells us? Is that drawing really the Hegley living-room as was? In which case, are the dots on the floor actually, as he says, not a carpet-pattern but an ant infestation? And did he one night lead his faithful audience at the Edinburgh Festival up Arthur’s seat to meet a potato?
Like Luton, spuds (he must be on intimate terms with them) have a special place in the Hegley canon. They are his reward of choice for particularly helpful audience members. Though at various points everybody helps with something somehow, being enjoined to make a choric soup out of the town’s first syllable in a hymn to aspects of Luton life. His parents apparently moved there because of the cheaper housing in the 1950s, little knowing they would be endowing their son of that decade with a birthplace possessing such extraordinary oral, and aural, potential. Pity poor John if they’d moved further north to Brigg
There’s a lot in this show, especially post-interval, about the Hegley forebears. Including his mother’s French forebears, who take the artistic strain back a century to the Folies Bergeres. As with any well-composed stage drama it ends up making the central character explicable; Parisian variety and Luton conformity clearly combined to make the man with the stanzas.
The poems are often short, sometimes incredibly brief, but some more substantial pieces show Hegley goes beyond verbal virtuosity into a melancholy reflectiveness ideally suited to those semi-crooned line-endings. Sailing happily over the stage on a swing, he retells the life of Jesus imaginatively, with a warning about accepting gifts from strangers and ending with the apposite thought, “If that was a Good Friday, I wouldn’t want a bad one.”
He never uses the 2 deckchairs either side of the swing himself, but happily ensconces a couple of audience members in them so they can have a better view of his slides. It’s all friendly, zany, easy-flowing; the sort of stuff you could put together yourself – until you try.