“That’s the dance out of the way,” says John Hegley, having twirled his way jauntily onto the stage. Hegley is not a man you may naturally associate with live gyrations. Later in this show he instigates a sort of exclusive aural handshake with his fellow spectacle-wearers, and spits out a poem dissing those fashion slaves who sport contact lenses. That’s more like it. But there is further dancing to come.
His punters are chiefly here to hear poetry, really, but Hegley has been working comedy stages for several decades now, so he knows how to put on a show. The deadpan bard from Bedfordshire snaps us into action from verse one, a shanty about seabirds that involves more audience gestures than a children’s performance (he’s doing those up here, too). And why not?
Hegley gets higher-brow along the way, including several references to the great French composer Jean-Philippe Rameau; one musical moment actively references a Rameau movement. There are punky bits—his strumming is underrated—poignant family dramas, and a fair bit of singing. That’s invariably accompanied by the crowd-cum-choir, who he divvies into sections with military precision.
“You know what this is called?” he asks one of the chattier correspondents, while holding up what appears to be either a big ukulele or a small guitar. “It’s called Steve.”
Hegley is one of our less-lauded literary legends. Eventually they’ll erect a bespectacled statue in Luton town centre, but for now we can appreciate his enduringly well-crafted onstage efforts, via the more useful methods of clapping and cash.