Monday, 14 June 2021

Darkly comic view of Catholic guilt complex

A FEW years ago Sean Hughes played a gig where so few people turned up, he decided to take them all down the pub. We were hoping for a similar outcome for his new show, Penguins, at the Kenton but while the theatre was only three-quarters full, sadly we weren’t treated to an intimate happy hour with Sean at the Rose and Crown.

The curtains drew back to reveal a stage worryingly full of gimmicks, but as the act unfurled, every item proved its relevance in illustrating Sean’s plight.

The metal buzz wire game, spelling out FAIL to represent the Dublin skyline but changing to PASS for the London skyline, helped convey Sean’s Irish Catholic origins with accompanying guilt complex. Sean then disappeared behind a Punch and Judy style puppet box and gave us a rendition via a penguin puppet of Edith Piaf’s Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien. Strange.

The puppet theatre then became a little row of wardrobe hooks upon which Sean hung children’s jackets to represent his childhood mates, older brother and the girl he liked. This was used to devastating effect with a bipolar ballet of hanger-switching as the invisible jacket-mates punched each other and got into headlocks. Even stranger.

The final touch was Sean as a “bloke in a dress”. Then it clicked: as a fan of Sean’s Show back in the Nineties I recalled his surrealist touches such as Elvis the spider — colourful elements to demonstrate his inner monologue to best effect. I just never realised there was so much melancholy brewing beneath the surface.

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