The rigid mouth of the bouncer twitched a little. A snot-nosed ten-year-old messed up on cranberry juice jetted about, grinning madly to herself. The kindly ushers looked at us like we were clever as dolphins for having come to this show. The point is, everyone was terribly excited to see performance poet John Hegley back in Brighton offering his unique brand of “awesomely mundane” verses, where potatoes and spectacles become the focal point for the best poet Luton has ever produced.
With his mandolin and a few scraps of paper, Hegley’s on-stage guise is warming and funny. He awkwardly accepts the initial clap, and then shuts us all down with a belligerent flap of his arms. It is as though this acerbic persona is the only way he can survive all the attention, and it charms the socks off us.
The format of the show, he explains, will take us through the alphabet with witty little ditties about animals. So he starts us off with A, for Amoeba (“You don’t have any arms or legs. You look like a protoplasmic fried egg… A really really small one”) and ends with Z, for Zebra (“I went everywhere with my zebra. We travelled from March to Febra”).
Audience participation is a must with Hegley, and he effortlessly gets everyone involved. He demands that one bespectacled man sing a solo, where everyone else is singing ensemble. Brave man? Not especially – Hegley’s schoolmaster persona is the audience’s own joke; there is a cheerful solidarity amongst us. We exchange looks to one another which say, “Oh, the cheeky man made us look like fools! But we don’t even care!”
Watching Hegley’s show is a bit like watching The Office. HELLA funny, and then Tim gets rejected once again and it all comes crashing down. You start off chuckling at Hegley’s smart-casual, awkward uncle look. Then you laugh at his little recital about amoeba. You cry with laughter at his micky-taking antics with the crowd. Then you may just cry. His highly original perspective on everydayness is funny, but also moving. The finale, ‘What we gonna do with granddad’s glasses?’, encompasses what Hegley’s all about: playfulness, wit, language and a healthy sense of melancholy.