Edinburgh Fringe 2010
John Hegley returns in, “Animal Alphaboat”, with an interactive show for families. Situated in the wonderfully realistic Pleasance Ark in the courtyard, the poet’s unique approach to poetry, dance and song are all present in this show for children and adults. John Hegley enchants children and adults with his poetic genius and silliness.
John Hegley is such a regular attendee to the Edinburgh fringe that he’s become almost as recognisable as Greyfriars Bobby. He usually performs two shows, one for children and one for adults, with the parents who took their offspring to the children’s show attending the adult performance. It’s a steadfast and impenetrable formula of poetry and song delivered alongside the antics of a delightfully rubbery elastic individual, who humorously uses his earlier experience as a teacher, to control any wayward activity.
In Animal Alphaboat, he appears with his trademark look of disdain that accompanies any response to his work, be it positive or negative. He long ago mastered the art of appearing indifferent to any type of criticism and this allows him to maintain a comfortable distance from his adoring audience whilst sometimes behaving like a total idiot. He randomly chooses letters from the alphabet and selects appropriate poetry which he reads with a confident delivery that guarantees a laugh. He looks over his glasses regularly, a prop he has always revered as an accoutrement for the elite, and waits for his audience to either stop laughing, talking, or rearranging clothes and seating. It makes no difference whether it is a child or an adult he applies the same tried and tested comic timing that has won him plaudits.
Hegley’s skill is to sneak profundity past you in his facetious writing. This allows him to win over adults and children in the same sitting. He describes the daily routine of the bumble bee, sheep, elephant etc that the children all relate to. He encourages them to make the appropriate noises at tactful points in his writing then stealthily slips past them to his adult audience and rhymes a scientific term such as insectivore. He is clever, absurd and able to meet his young audience on their level. His poem entitled, “me”, reduces all the children to fits of laughter and you know they relate to his enunciation of every word.
He intersperses rhyming expertise with simple ditties that everyone sings along to. It’s the choral unity that those uncomfortable religious services we’ve all attended can only dream of. There was definite imbalance in the ratio between parents and grandparents, and assigned children and I strongly suspect that some of the adults had no children with them at all. Second and third childhoods were definitely being revisited, as the sing-a-longs were performed with such gusto. I swear one adult was extremely misty eyed. The children loved helping him out and their suggestions at why a dog was different from a deckchair were hilarious.
Hegley’s not touched this formula for a while, and why should he? He gets to analyse his inner demons in his adult shows and having seen many of them, I know he doesn’t shy away from that. The corners of his mouth twitch and a smile occasionally escapes to his face. He takes control of that immediately , but the incident makes me believe that after all this time he stills gets something rewarding out of this. You’re absolutely guaranteed a good time, your kids will love it, I loved it, and he’ll be back next year.