John Hegley at the Watermark
John Hegley Poet
John is a performance poet and comedian claimed as one of their own by both the alternative comedy pros and children’s performers. In her recent book ‘ Can’t Sit Down For Standing Up’ Jo Brand says he is one of the countries best comedians. He is a brilliant entertainer and created an immediate intimate atmosphere in The Watermarks multi-purpose space.
I first experienced a John Hegley set at Port Eliot some years ago, since then I’ve caught him during his tours in atmospheric pubs and buildings around London and once, when he was poet in residence, at Keats House in Hampstead. The Watermark at Ivybridge was my first chance to see him in a mainstream performance space.
I was a little late and walked in during the Guillemot Song, an audience participation song. Really quite unforgivable but luckily I am a glasses wearer and in Johns world that counts for a lot so I was excused. The show has music, comedy, performance poetry and discussion with audience participation and a questions slot so is an unusual format for a poetry performance.
When his poems morph into songs John accompanies himself musically, he plays along on a particularly unusually shaped mandolin. I mention this because like everything else in this gig, the unusual shape of his mandolin becomes part of a tale that wittily twists and turns until the end, sometimes having taken us nowhere at all but causing laughter on the way.
The audience always slightly disappoints Mr Hegley, he expects more of us and cajoles us to be better like an eccentric schoolmaster, urging interaction and opinion throughout. He is a clever manipulator of thought and word making his performance seem almost completely off the cuff; props are minimal, a few books scattered on the table which he dips in to occasionally to read a poem or two and a laptop/ projector combo that he shows slides on to illustrate his love of Luton Town Football club and the interior of the Luton bungalow where he grew up. Less obvious things like mice portraits, enhanced photographs and collage interiors are also featured but if you expect that to make any sense then you’re probably at the wrong show.
For some reason this time, a few of us were trained to perform a baroque dance. I was a willing and chosen volunteer (because as previously mentioned I wear the beloved glasses) but performance anxiety caused me to completely miss the humour of his asides and commentary whilst we fumbled our steps. The audience didn’t seem to suffer the same fate and laughed uproariously thoughout the hashed together choreography.
John Hegley is a very high level Word Wizard, conjuring humour from words, full stops or just a raised eyebrow. We were treated to the experience of O level French mini essays, ‘The Adventures of Monsieur Robinet’ was read out by John in French and ably translated by an audience member, during which he somehow managed not only to be hilariously funny himself but to make her funny too.
I personally have become a huge fan of John Hegley’s work and have used his poetry at family funerals and other awkward events; his gentle humour soothing difficult sentiments. This particular show is off to Edinburgh in August but what a treat to have it here in the South West first!
John Hegley with Juliet Cornell