Assembly Studios, George Square
Standing in the queue for this show, I can’t help noting that, almost unbelievably, 2018 marks John Hegley’s 30th anniversary as a performer. My mind inevitably flashes back to the first time I saw him, at a working men’s club somewhere on the outskirts of Manchester. It was the late 1980s and a friend had dragged me along, assuring me that I was going to see something ‘pretty special.’ There was a raffle, I remember, and a cataclysmically unfunny compere… and my expectations were on a level with a crocodile’s belly.
And then, on strode John Hegley. He opened with a poem about a farting dog and I remember laughing so hard I almost pulled a muscle. Happy days.
And here we are, all these years later, and Hegley really hasn’t changed that much. Not that I want him to. His gigs really are rather unique, giving the impression of a ramshackle happening, when in reality, of course, his years of experience have taught him exactly how to handle any audience. On he trots with the demeanour of a grumpy school teacher, not even trying to hide his disappointment at today’s rather meagre gathering. He puts on a shiny hat and launches into a song about Guillemots (which let’s face it are seriously underrepresented at the Fringe), issuing us with complicated hand movements to accompany each line. He pauses periodically to draw our attention to any latecomers as they try to quietly sneak in, making them part of the show, telling them off and yet, somehow, drawing them to his side.
On the face of it, it’s very straightforward stuff. There are short poems from different points of his career, some songs, which we are invited… no, commanded to join in with and, because he has the use of a very large stage, he even throws in a bit of dancing, bringing people up from the crowd so he can instruct them in some half-remembered routine. It doesn’t lead anywhere, but hey, he has to use that big stage somehow, right?
And just when you think it’s all going to be lightweight stuff, he throws in a poem about his parents which is genuinely poignant, before leading us into a spirited singalong about the estate in Luton where he grew up. (He assigns us really difficult accompanying parts to sing on the chorus. Of course he does.)
This is affable and entertaining stuff. It won’t change your life or make the earth move, but you’ll have a really nice time and you’ll laugh a lot. Which is not to be underestimated.
I hope Hegley is around for many years to come, doing what he does so well.