Sean Hughes, Soho Theatre, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

Sean Hughes is the latest comedian (after Ben Elton last year) to heed the call of stand-up following the best part of a decade away from it. Hughes, known to many as one of the team captains on BBC2's Never Mind the Buzz-cocks, left the stage to concentrate on putting bigger ideas on paper. But now the Irish comedian and novelist, 41 next month, has returned to his "first love", as he called it in a recent interview.

Hughes bursts on stage with gusto, dressed as Adam Ant and posturing to the strains of "Prince Charming" - as he well knows, "ridicule is nothing to be scared of". However, he finds it hard to generate the kind of energy levels he would like for a triumphant return. In part, this is because his audience banter skills are inevitably a bit rusty.

Settling in with nice patter about distancing himself from Buzzcocks fame (he quit the show in 2002), he suggests that people see his face and wonder if they have seen him on the TV or "whether I live four doors down from them". Hughes says that returning to comedy is a way to get his face about again and stop him being lonely in his house. "It's a big house, though," he adds in one of his trademark cheeky asides, eyebrows raised and smile curled on his thin lips.

Scene-setting complete, Hughes' set then veers from near-the-knuckle material (for example, his personal tragedy on the day of the 7 July bombings was to have bought a six-zone Tube pass that morning) and weary misanthropy ("Why go to a rock gig when you have a CD player and a chair?") to the quirky but wistful material he is rightly admired for: "It's not that my parents are getting older and closer to death that scares me, it's that they're shrinking."

In this routine about his parents, he suggests an analogy between their intrusiveness and the foreign policy of the US government. It's one of many political overtones he tries to introduce to his set in the face of inexplicable resistance from the audience. At times, it seems as though it's only when Hughes comments on the lack of laughter (for example, at a joke about a cartoon seemingly depicting Muslim men but in actual fact relating to the band ZZ Top) that the audience relaxes.

The set is at times laboured, it's certainly overlong, and it needs greater coherence. Yet, despite the gaps, the quality of the routines that go right is clear. However brief this return may be, it is welcome.

Ends tomorrow (08704 296 883)

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