Monday, November 08, 2010

Punk poet is cool with the kids - John Hegley review

Glad to wear glasses

John Hegley in Bar 1861 at The Corn Exchange, Newbury, on Saturday, October 23

IT must be great being John Hegley. You get to travel around the country meeting bizarre children and grown-ups, cheering fellow glasses wearers and singing silly songs  - which of course aren’t silly songs at all, but actually very clever and well-crafted comic poems in musical disguise.

Owing to rather quiet ticket sales - Elmer the Elephant has sold more for his Corn Exchange show on November 20, and he’s a puppet - Hegley’s lunchtime appearance was moved from the auditorium to the balcony bar. Possibly in tribute to the popular patchwork elephant, but more likely tailoring his act to the size and make-up of the audience, Hegley did not present the advertised show, The Adventures of Monsieur Robinet, but instead performed poems and songs from Animal Alphaboat, his 2010 Edinburgh Fringe children’s show.

This romp through the alphabet focussed on some of the zoology’s less favoured animals, such as the amoeba (excellently defined by one young member of the audience) along with a tale of Hegley’s “very very very [etc.] naughty brother-in-law”, a poem about his French grand mere (the link to the theme being that she named the family goldfish), and the revelation of what happened to his pet armadillo.

Hegley’s comfortable and relaxed attitude to the audience encouraged plenty of sing-alongs (dividing the assembled company into “glasses wearers, traitorous contact lens wearers and the rest”), clap-alongs, and eager young volunteers willing to come to the microphone to discuss the difference between a dog and a deckchair. He demonstrated a good understanding of children’s limited attention spans, and crammed plenty of fun into the hour-long show.

Hegley writes poetry and performs for adult audiences as well as children - in fact he was considered something of a cool rock & roll poet in his younger days, recording two John Peel Sessions for the cult BBC Radio 1 DJ in the early 1980s - and despite this being a  show aimed at children, his universal appeal meant that the grown-ups present joined in as enthusiastically as the smaller people. They might have received a stern look if they didn’t.

It was a pity that Hegley’s show didn’t sell more tickets, but for those who did attend, the move of venue made for an intimate, fun and most enjoyable show. It was a pleasure to experience Hegley in action.

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, October 28, 2010

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