Spud the difference

John Hegley's new show promises dancing. But then, only a fool would take the poet/ comedian/ potato-fancier at his word.
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The Independent Culture
John Hegley is not a dancer. You know this, I know this but, in a laudable desire to branch out a little, Hegley has billed his latest show, Dancing with Potatoes, as a dance event and invited the dance press. It made a pleasant change for us all but he's not much of a mover and he doesn't move very much.

He knows this. Early in the set he crouches down swiftly to retrieve a typescript from the floor. "I think that's the dance out of the way." The fact that the house is stacked with broadsheet dance critics is clearly just a huge tease. No-one else is there for the choreography - untried dancemakers don't fill the Bloomsbury Theatre and then add two extra gigs by popular demand.

Hegley works an audience with extraordinary skill. His manner is occasionally confiding but, for the most part, his model is the mildly sarcastic headmaster. Nothing escapes him. Every snigger is noted as he slyly builds a rapport with the house. He then consolidates this with a little audience participation in which subjects are shouted out and oblique little thoughts are turned into poems. This sequence leaves him at the mercy of his admirers and when their ideas falter, he is lamely obliged to change tack: "Makes you appreciate the scripted stuff, though, doesn't it?''

His trusty sidekick Nigel is then (literally) wheeled on-stage to supply the music for the first "dance" sequence. "Anyone here want to dance?" asks Hegley. "Don't." He promptly begins a little solo, crouching in a Grahamesque contraction before stretching up to pick imaginary apples before flapping round the stage like a turkey in horn rims. Then, suddenly, it's potato time and Hegley and Tony Curtis, paper bags on heads and tubers under chins, begin a small routine whose chief interest is that they wear suits and move in unison. This is the oldest trick in the gestural dance book and has been the basis of many successful minor works - Aletta Collins's 1988 Gang of Five for Phoenix Dance is an obvious example. In a choreographer, this kind of cliche can become tiresome; in a poetic comedian, it's rather endearing.

Only the dance element is truly new and most of that was tried out at one of the South Bank's Rhythm Method events last year. The rest of the set is familiar territory and remains a clever mix of very old favourites and work-in-progress that deftly incorporate his verbal slips into the act (''go with your errors''). Although he doesn't exactly have a cult following - well, they didn't look much of a cult - the audience seem happily familiar with the material. By the time we reach the finale, the usual ghastly bit of business with the canine glove puppets (Ken Dog and Herman Hessian), Hegley's fans are past caring. They are willing to tolerate any eccentricity for a share in the sad, sweet poems that range from his vexed relationship with his father to his love of railways: "even the trains I do not catch transport me". But this is poetry, not motion.

To Sun, then 31 Jan & 1 Feb.

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