Gilded Balloon Teviot
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
★★★ (out of five)
Until August 25
A RESURGANCE in Irish comedy undoubtedly began with the likes of Sean Hughes over 25 years ago.
He has since become a recognised staple in British-Irish life, perhaps best recognised as a team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks.
He’s published poetry and novels as well as taking on acting roles in Coronation Street and a variety of film and television offerings.
But in 2007 he returned to his first love, stand-up comedy – where he hit a second peak in middle-age.
And in Penguins you can’t help but notice how big a contender he actually was in the early 1990s, selling out massive venues, having his own television show and winning the Perrier award at the age of 24.
There’s a powerful moment in the routine where he describes how a local shopkeeper quotes a put-down concerning Hughes’ career reported in The Sun. It’s a stark moment when the comedian laments his lack of education in not knowing how to deal with the situation.
From there the door cracks open and we spend the rest of the hour with Hughes at his most sensitive, struggling and melancholic. Life boils down to a few moments and he shares some of them with us.
It’s relentlessly dark material, at times vital and poignant, but comedy? Not really.
In a much needed moment of levity he admits to supporting Crystal Palace, talking about football and thuggery while standing in an ill-fitting black woollen dress. It’s a sight all-right, but the joke quickly wears as thin as the dress.
Hughes admits to hating thugs but liking the ones that like him.
Before the gig is out Hughes documents another break up, his struggle with Catholicism and burgeoning sexuality, how technology has killed the personality of anyone aged below 29 and his past struggles with the demon drink.
At times it feels repetitive, like we’ve been here before. Perhaps Penguins should have been billed as philosophy rather than comedy; it would’ve been easier to swallow. It was obviously too much for those who walked out mid-routine.
The biggest laughs were the moments where he drifted from the script, the kind of humour you might knowingly smile at in a song by the Smiths.
But to compare it to Beckett – as one reviewer did – was a stretch, as were the five stars.