Theatre

Hugh Hughes in…360 @ Plesance Courtyard, Edinburgh



Hugh Hughes likes to welcome people as they come in to the theatre and take their seats.

He dashes up and down the steps, smiling at people and shaking their hands, and he asks people to introduce themselves to one another, which most happily do.

If you are late he might make you introduce yourself to the whole room.


If you have seen Hoi Polloi’s previous shows, Floating and Story of a Rabbit, the character of Hugh Hughes, the emerging artist from Anglesey, will be familiar. He is the creation of Hoi Polloi’s Artistic Director Shon Dale-Jones, though the line between the two of them is intentionally blurred and he often gives interviews in character.

In this new show, 360, he’s done away with the flipcharts and action men and any musical accompaniment and is performing alone in front of a drab black curtain. (His show is also listed in the comedy section, rather than the theatre section of the Fringe Programme). This, he says, was a decision made for artistic rather than economic reasons.

Hughes believes there is still something of the child inside every man, a thing that both Nietzsche and Socrates would agree on. He talks with eyes large with wonder and a constant curious smile, relating the story of how, returning to his hometown after living in London, he climbed Snowdon with his friend Gareth and on top of the mountain he forced himself to do a 360, to spin on his heels, to change his perspective on life.

Into this story he folds childhood memories of building dams and writing letters to the pretty girl in the classroom. Occasionally he will introduce elements of the fantastic, white horses or Superman, but then he will gallop back to the ‘true’ narrative, though the nature of truth always floats close to the surface with Hughes. Does it matter if these events happened? Does it matter if Gareth, or someone like him, exists at all? Not really; his stories have their own life, they have their own reality, and there in that hot room the story is all. It is entirely possible to see and enjoy Hugh Hughes’ shows without realising that Hughes is a persona, a creation.

At one point in the evening a plane zooms over the Pleasance Courtyard with a sonic scream just as Hughes had been describing how brilliant reality is (in this way, he’s a bit like that Paul Whitehouse character from The Fast Show: everything’s brilliant) and he ran outside the theatre to see if it had left a stripe in the sky, asking some bemused passers-by to confirm whether the sky was indeed striped.

It’s impossible to write this review without mentioning the fact that, about half way through his set, a woman fainted. The performance stopped until it was ascertained that she was OK (she was) and the audience were made to vacate the building while she was attended to. It was decided that the show would go ahead, though by this point many people had drifted off. Those left returned to the venue and Hughes was able, tentatively, to pick up where he left off and complete the show, finish his and Gareth’s story, and to recreate, at least partially, the atmosphere that was lost.

But this unforeseen and unfortunate incident, through no fault of his own, exposed the limitations of Hughes’ persona. While there’s something ever so appealing about Hughes’ big-hearted, warm, embracive view of the world and while it would be nice to always be so alive and open to beauty, to everyday magic; it’s a difficult position to maintain. Not everything in life can be met with a calm, curious smile. This, of course wasn’t the most ideal evening to judge his act on, but reality as he had been pointing out earlier in the set has a habit of throwing such curve balls.

More coverage of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe on the musicOMH blog



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