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John Hegley: The Adventures of Monsieur Robinet – Fringe 2009

Note: This review is from 2009

Review by Steve Bennett

Not many shows feature family-friendly singalongs and jaunty poetry as well as references to Max Beckmann, Mark Rothko and Georges Braque; but then few performers have the ability to talk so accessibly about any subject as John Hegley.

Given that it’s something of an education, it’s apt that Hegley has the demeanour of a teacher berating a spirited, but not disruptive, class. He scowls over his glasses if someone laughs in the wrong place, or jollies us along with benign authority if we’re not answering his questions with the gusto he feels he deserves.

The Adventures Of Monsieur Robinet is his latest collection of short poems, which chart the modest adventures of a shy, fictional Frenchmen in bilingual verse (though don’t worry, it’s GCSE-standard French at best, and translation is always on hand). The show features two or three poems from this tome, but mainly revolves around a couple of subjects close to Hegley’s heart: his French heritage and his Luton upbringing. He’s spoken about both before, but this mixes new angles with (occasionally) old poetry.

His English grandfather married a Folies Bergeres dancer whom he met in Paris, an incident the poet recounts in a verse wittily set to the Can-Can tunes. Elsewhere, he plucks along on his mandolin, adding another musical element to the show, with the audience providing a counterpoint for his ‘Luton bungalow’ refrain in the song of that title.

There’s warm wit aplenty, both in the poetry (rhyming ‘Gethsemane’ with ‘enemy’ for example, or his traditional complaint about the Edinburgh Tattoo) and in the engaging banter that sets the scenes, including one of the greatest French-based puns you’re likely to hear. Or indeed the only one.

But the main joy comes from sharing his love of language, of learning and of rhythm. That and dancing to The Smiths at the show’s end.

Review date: 1 Sep 2009
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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