ABOUT 40 minutes into the show, John apologises that biscuits hadn’t been mentioned up until this point but don’t let what some legal shysters might try to paint as misrepresentation, this is another fantastic hour from an absolute master of his craft.
It’s a show of poetry and songs – most of the latter having at least some measure of audience participation – and you’re straight into it with the audience asked to punctuate the first song by wailing “Walthamstow” in a folk style.
“The Bridled Guillemot Song” even comes with a baffling array of accompanying actions – and beware if you get the one for jellyfish wrong.
Don’t worry, though, you don’t have to expose any perceived lack of musical talent, as John says, “You’re not obliged to join in but please participate emotionally.”
The show comes from his stint as poet in residence in John Keats’ house, with the title drawn from a short trip the romantic poet made to Ireland where he met an old woman being carried in what appeared to be some form of mobile kennel and suffering from what Keats observed to be “a scarcity of biscuit”.
This gives John the framework to explore his own family, growing up in a Bungalow in Luton in the 50s and 60s and attending a fourth-form disco in an oversized suit borrowed from his older brother Rene Marcel – Hegley’s father was half-French (“the bottom half”) and that provides another fascinating strand to the family story we are being told.
All of this is peppered with his poems and songs, some of which are fairly sombre but most of which are hilarious including the wonderfully daft “Peter The Orange Parrot”.
The message of the show is to try and find the positive, to not hinder people but to let them show their creativity and possible genius and this fits in with what John explains he spends most of his time doing, visiting schools to try and tease out creativity.
You might think a poet in his late 60s might struggle in some educational establishments but his stage persona reminds me of no one more than Professor Snape – they have a very similar almost menacing presence, and nose but instead of Alan Rickman’s RADA delivery Hegley delivers withering admonishments to the audience in his distinctive nasal Lutonian tones.
It takes a brave performer who, after accompanying his audiences entrance on the guitar, snaps, “Don’t clap”!
I’ll admit, I’ve been a Hegley fan for years, though I didn’t see his 1989 Fringe show based on his poem about the Crucifixion brilliantly titled “Can I Come Down Now, Dad?”, and this show proves he’s as good as ever. Tim Vine, sat cackling just along from me, seemed to agree.
John Hegley’s Biscuit of Destiny, Summerhall, 14.00, August 6-14,16-21,23-28