Monday, 3 December 2012

Theatre review: Stories from an Invisible Town

Hugh Hughes, the mostly-fictional rising Welsh multimedia artist and alter-ego of actor/writer Shôn Dale-Jones, returns to the Pit with his fourth show following a national tour. (Dale-Jones claims to have been surprised after his first show, Floating, at people not realising Hugh wasn't real; but as his cast lists continue to credit the writing and acting to the characters, with the real creatives' names listed as "artistic associates," there's obviously a certain amount of deliberate blurring between him and his creation. It also makes crediting people in reviews tricky, so any crediting that follows is, I think, right, but comes mainly from a fair amount of googling.) This time around, for Stories from an Invisible Town, Hugh has been given siblings, Delyth (Sophie Russell) and Derwyn (Andrew Pembrooke,) who join him on stage for a loosely-structured memory play about their childhoods in Anglesey, and their more fractured relationships as adults.

Much longer than Hughes' earlier shows and a little bit unwieldy, the closest Stories from an Invisible Town has to a central arc is the story of how, following their father's death, their mother's health deteriorated and the siblings had to make adjustments to Derwyn's flat so she could move in with him. In the process, Hugh is reminded that his brother and sister don't get on and tries, by getting them involved in the memory play he's working on, to patch things up between them. This show has an obvious ambition beyond Hughes' usual amiable ramblings, with the projected photos and Super 8 film now complemented by a more professionally-shot short movie (documenting the siblings reverting to childish squabbling as they tidy the flat) and an entire website of memories to accompany the show. There's also more people on stage - as well as the three Hugheses there's Tom Cotterill running the technical side of things, and music provided by Jerry (Dante Rendle Traynor - who's rather cute and pleasingly allergic to doing up the top half of his shirt buttons.)

The amount of stuff going on means this isn't the best of Hughes' shows but it's still in many ways a joy: I'm sure some people must find him mawkish but Vanessa and I have seen all of his shows and he continues to be a cheekily likeable figure whose shows have a charming sense of organised chaos about them, and manage a great balancing act of finding humour in the sad moments of life. If some of the expansions of the Hugh Hughes universe haven't quite worked, that of the characters certainly has, and the gregarious Delyth, more reserved Derwyn, and even Jerry who sometimes gets drawn into their stories, have the central figure's quirky charm. It runs a bit too long to really leave you wanting more at the end, but it does send you out of the theatre feeling a little bit more optimistic about the world, and that's got to be an achievement in anyone's book.

Stories from an Invisible Town by Hugh Hughes, Derwyn Hughes and Delyth Pritchard (née Hughes) is booking until the 8th of December at the Pit.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes including interval.

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