In recent years the returns that Sean Hughes has made to the Fringe have been diminishing ones, contrasting ever more unfavourably with his peak in the 1990s and exposing an increasingly bitter disillusionment with, well, everything.
This year the once lyrical and insightful Irishman brings two shows to the Fringe. ‘Life Becomes Noises’ is a scripted piece inspired by, but not entirely bound by, the death of Hughes’ father. Meanwhile, ‘Sean Hughes Stands Up’ does what it says on the tin - just very, very badly.
If you can imagine an episode of ‘Sean’s Show’ (Hughes’ recent Channel 4 hit) themed around a family bereavement then you have ‘Life Becomes Noises’. Hughes wants the show to celebrate life and not to dwell on the misery, and claims that he is more likely to go through the five stages of grief if he forgets to buy milk for his cereal.
While the balance between family back story and vaguely related stand-up is about 50-50, there are some nice personal passages that stick out including one about Hughes and his mother visiting the church that his parents were married in.
Hughes tries to weave personal reminiscences into his stand-up show too, but it is disingenuous and ‘Sean Hughes Stands Up’ is a like a warm-down from a superior effort, underlining his erratic form. His set is an unfocused, sometimes mean-spirited mess that veers from gags like “Muslims are a quiet race of people until they explode” to a plea for people to give each other flowers to avoid tragedies like Tia Sharp’s murder.
Attempts to stress his liberal streak are rather hackneyed, as for example when he imagines waving a paint colour chart at John Terry to see which ones he objects to. This gag comes in the context of clumsily ironic and tenuous jokes, one of which has him switching from a Syrian barber to an Afghan one (because “you get to throw rocks at women after”).
‘Life Becomes Noises’ may not be entirely convincing, but it comes from a warmer place than Hughes’ stand-up show; a thorn in the side of what could have been a successful return.
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