If you take a walk past Churchill Square and into the more regal location of Hove, you may stumble on The Iron Duke Hotel. Immediately inside is a homely pub and, perhaps unexpectedly, tucked round the back is a theatre. On Wednesday 28th September this theatre hosted Wine, Women and Richard Burton, a one man show from cabaret comic Ted Hockin, which is a mixture of song and comedy with a spattering of Richard Burton’s ghost.
The performance starts with an entirely dark room, from which the voice of Richard Burton’s ghost ominously resounds – or to be more accurate, Ted Hockin impersonating the late great actor. Throughout the show the interplay between Hockin and the recording of the ‘ghost’ never fails to bring ripples of laughter from the audience, as the pretext of Hockin being haunted until Burton is granted a kazoo solo recurs – a proposition that is as bizarre as it is entertaining. Hockin sits on stage, slightly to one side, in front of his keyboard which also shares its table with cigarettes, a can of Guinness and a bottle of wine that is liberally partaken in. Hockin himself is dressed in a three piece suit to match his extravagant persona, and remains entirely engaging from the start of the performance to the finish. When not in antagonistic disagreement with Richard Burton’s ghost, Hockin is always addressing the audience, and early on he announces ‘I will be performing songs about the abiding pleasures of my life, namely wine and women’. Whilst there is undoubtedly a fair amount of time spent on those subjects, it is fair to say the show and the songs are more complex than that tongue in cheek introduction gives credit for. Hockin deconstructs various styles of song, an early example of which is his take on the sea shanty, which is introduced with the promise to invade Cornwall ‘in the name of good taste’. We noticed there is no Cornish date for the show yet.
This deconstruction is at its most acute when taking down the modern pop song, jokingly described as failed attempt at Eurovision. In the song he takes the conventional love song and takes it to a further extreme, mercilessly mocking the obsessive tone of many lyrics in popular songs with the promise to be there ‘whether you want me there or not’. The song itself may not quite match up to musical standards of The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’, but it certainly has a greater self-awareness. The show is also full of literary references, and these are at their most entertaining in the song ‘Miss Havisham’. Joking he is a ‘literary hipster’ who finds Dickens ‘mainstream’, Hockin does confess to a teenage infatuation with the jilted bride of Dickens’ Great Expectations. This again parodies many facets of the modern pop song and the wittiness of lines like ‘we’ll get on like a house on fire’ are testament to Hockin’s intelligent, inventive humour.
The regular interaction with the audience and self-referencing nature of the show make it a unique experience. Hockin does not shy from self-depreciation, at one point joking he is a ‘pound shop Derren Brown’, and is happy to make himself the butt of jokes. This culminates in the grand reveal at the end that is hinted at by the ghost throughout the show. Hockin pauses his anguished cries to exclaim ‘please Mr. Journalist don’t print that’, and who am I to deny that request? You will have to see the show for yourself if you want to find out the secret, although I will say that it is suitably surreal. The final song of the evening is a wonderful mocking of strip clubs entitled Spearmint Rhino Regret, and the audience are encouraged to join in the final chorus. Hockin finishes by telling us ‘frankly, I’m knackered’, and that is no surprise. He has put himself entirely into the performance and the audience leave feeling entirely entertained. The show is perceptive, engaging and above all else, hilarious.