Sean Hughes: The Right Side Of Wrong

Note: This review is from 2007

Review by Steve Bennett

When Sean Hughes first made his comeback to the circuit after a seven-year absence, the result was decidedly underwhelming, especially given the reputation the youngest-ever Perrier winner once enjoyed. Even as recently as the Leicester Comedy Festival, seven months ago, his show was at best patchy, with precious few tantalising flashes of the sardonic wit of old diluted with a lot of aimless piffle.

Well, a stint of relentless touring and half an Edinburgh run later, and many of the gaping holes in his two-hour set have been plugged. Even in a subdued, third-full theatre on a cold weeknight in Croydon, Hughes is showing much more consistent flair. A return to form is clearly under way, and gathering pace.

Not that he’s entirely enamoured with the effort he has to put in to prise laughs out of this reluctant audience, and he makes no attempt to hide his dissatisfaction. Rightly so, too, as there are plenty of fine jokes in here that don’t get the response they deserve. Hughes isn’t angry about the fact, however, just resigned to it, and absorbs it effortlessly into his world-weary shtick.

He was always intellectually old before his years, and as he approaches his 42nd birthday, the mundane concerns and middle-aged intolerance suits him better than ever before. To listen to him, though, you’d think he was going on 72, given how much he gripes about the pills he’s on, his nose hair, the random aches and tiredness that blights him. At times, he sounds like a care home resident, albeit one who sometimes still tries to pick up 25-year-olds in trendy bars before suddenly realising how ridiculous he looks.

It’s routines like this. when he turns his penetrating comic eye onto himself rather than others, that work best. He’s got a few topicalish lines about burkhas or Muslims getting plenty of space on the bus which don’t really pass muster, but when he gets on to sexual politics, rather than social ones, you can tell the material’s been forged on the brutal anvil of first-hand experience, and is all the all the better for it. He’s carefully to portray himself truthfully, or at least it seems that way, admitting his dread of commitment alongside other failings.

Given the coldness of the audience, it takes Hughes some time to hit his stride. He tries to warm the audience up with a few items of ‘found’ comedy – newspaper clippings, lost cat posters and scraps from a teenage diary – and a bit of banter about his role in Coronation Street, should anyone have come to see him on the back of that, before sowing the seeds of the themes that will underpin the show.

Some of the reluctance to get an atmosphere going is down to his own casual style, some of the lines coming out as little more that a mumble, but he waits for the audience to attune to his energy level, rather than giving his material the hard sell. He appears to be just having a conversation with us, which is perhaps why some of those clever lines don’t get the recognition they should, given they have no build-up. But formidable gags are definitely in there.

Once he’s won the hard fight for audience trust, the second half allows him to relax more, to take some time to tell more involved stories, such as his close shave with the 2004 tsunami on Sri Lanka – although much of this is broken in to smaller chunks and peppered through the set. Another potentially hazardous section about Down’s Syndrome children manages to be funny without being cruel.

As befits a man of what he considers his advancing years, this is mature comedy, with depth behind the crafted punchlines. He might not be 100 per cent back on his old form, but he’s certainly getting there.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Croydon, September 26, 2007

Review date: 1 Sep 2007
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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