How huge is Hugh Hughes? The Wonderful World of Hugh Hughes at the Barbican

The emergence of a theatrical persona

Hugh Hughes

Hugh Hughes is attracting something of a cult following. On Saturday, myself and an audience of dedicated Hughes followers spent almost 8 hours at the Barbican as part of what is being termed the ‘Hugh Hughes marathon’. For the first time, Hughes is presenting his shows Floating, Story of a Rabbit and 360 one after the other. The day also included the screening of Hughes’ new film, How I Got Here.

Hughes’ inimitable theatre of stories meshes together the wild and the intensely personal. He’s honest, awkward and polished at the same time, and able to charm his audience instantly. Employing a self-conscious, presentational technique, Hughes explains the components of Floating with a ‘show board’.  Indicating the sections of the show we will watch, this includes themes, characters and beginning, middle and end; ‘of course we are following an Aristotelian form’, he rattles off with a large helping of Welsh charm. He thrives on errors (intentional or otherwise) and seems simultaneously alien to and completely at home in the slick artiness of the Barbican.

Hughes has a rare talent for conviction. He’s somehow able to tell a story about his father’s death and a story about an inverted poo and to consistently win his audience over. His humour is both wry and stupid; he’s proud of the use of an OHP and slide projector in his so-called ‘multimedia theatre’.

His work makes a valuable contribution to my recent thoughts about audience interaction and how it can best be used. His shows are brought to life through his interaction with the audience; it’s both unnecessary and integral. Hughes does not conform to my recent mandate about the necessity of incorporating interaction into a story, but this is different. These shows are about Hughes: about his childhood, his home and his family. They’re about his personality, and this is how he’s able to incorporate interaction without it being intimidating, irritating or offensive.

How many performers could persuade their audience to leave their seats behind and crawl around the stage as sheep? Hughes made this impromptu request somewhat timidly, but a wave of possibility in the safety of this ‘marathon’ community swept the room: am I the only one who wants to do this? The only disappointment was not to fulfil Hughes’ suggestion to bleat our way into the Barbican foyer.

Hugh Hughes is infectious and his brand engaging. Exhausted by his energy, there was a sense of something achieved at the end of this remarkable day. This emerging Welsh artist has really emerged; I’m wearing my Hugh Hughes: feeling connected badge with pride.

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