Hilary Wardle

Review: Sean Hughes – Life Becomes Noises – Pleasance Forth, Edinburgh.

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Sean Hughes | Giggle Beats

Sean Hughes

It isn’t easy to transform tragedy into comedy, particularly an hour’s worth of comedy about your father’s untimely death from cancer. And sadly, Sean Hughes doesn’t quite manage it here.

It was always going to be a tricky sell, but it doesn’t help that Life Becomes Noises doesn’t hang together at all that well. It’s hard to be objective when the subject matter is so deeply personal, and that’s possibly the problem here: it would have really benefited from a fresh eye and a great deal of editing. Certain elements confuse, others don’t quite work and the final monologue describing a time when his father picked Sean up from University is slightly baffling.

This isn’t quite comedy, yet it isn’t theatre either. Life Becomes Noises is somewhere in between: an autobiographical no man’s land kitted out with prop puppets, a painting of a horse and – most significantly – a hospital bed.

The show begins with Sean cantering onto stage dressed as a jockey: a fake dream sequence with a few nice multimedia elements that engage the audience well. Hughes gets one chap to award him his trophy – a teapot – and another audience asks him for a ‘quote’ about his victory. It’s playful, fun and seems to bode well for the show as a whole, yet it soon becomes clear we’re in for a bit of an awkward and strange hour of…something.

Hughes talks at length about his father’s problems: his gambling habits, alcoholism, illness and eventual death from cancer. But it’s but never in a particularly coherent way. He uses an odd Rice Krispies analogy to explain the 5 stages of grief, and breaks up the narrative with very basic observational comedy: for example, the fact that reality TV shows always play Snow Patrol.

It’s just not funny enough to escape the material. Perhaps the jokes were meant to be peripheral, but they’re also rambling and out of touch. One section, where he imagines he’s taking an elephant to visit his morphine-addled father in hospital, turns into what’s effectively an ill-advised rant about gypsies. Bizarre.

In his nineties comedy vehicle Sean’s Show, Hughes channeled that surreal humour brilliantly – yet tonight he looks off the pace. The material’s no longer fresh, and it’s certainly not as intelligent as he’s clearly capable of. His NHS/Stoke City gag is a case in point; they’re both ‘a bit shit’, we’re told.

They say comedy is therapy, but it’s all a little too raw in Life Becomes Noises. Hughes has clearly had a hard time of late, and his health is suffering as a result; but perhaps this comic needs to look further afield, away from the stage, to find his fix.

Date of live review: Thursday 9th August 2012