Preview: John Hegley: Christmas Creatures, Battersea Arts Centre, London

Beastly time with a master of rhyme

Warren Howard
Thursday 13 December 2007 01:00 GMT

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Louise Thomas

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An evening spent in the company of the gloriously offbeat poet, John Hegley, is a little like pulling on your Christmas jumper: colourful, often absurd, but ultimately deeply warming. To mark the festive season, Luton's most famous son arrives at Studio 68, Battersea Art Centre's cabaret bar, for Christmas Creatures, a series of intimate evenings dedicated to Hegley's substantial trove of animal poems. But in the space of an hour, where do you begin?

"Well, there's 'Amoeba', 'Anteater' and 'Armadillo'," says Hegley. "They're not, for the most part, Christmas-themed poems. As we all know, creatures are not just for Christmas. I've got this pile of animal poems that I haven't really had a chance to do together. Some are funny, some are sad, some are both, some are sung, one is barked and one is stripy. It's going to be a voyage of discovery. But it's great that it's a minute venue; it means that I can get the audience to interact in caption contests and drawings. And there's going to be plenty of guests dropping in. And I like to think that the people coming along are going to be my guests as well."

Among those joining Hegley in Battersea over the course of the run will be fellow poet and long-time associate Tony Curtis and the dysfunctional comic and veteran of the original London Comedy Store, Andrew Bailey. Hegley's mandolin is never too far from his side, either, and to help add a little rhythm to the rhyme, his own beat-combo, The Popticians, will look in, as will the North London duo Diego Brown and the Good Angel. It may be best, though, not to expect an untroubled path to Christmas cheer; Hegley's poetic musings on Christmas itself are undercut with as much bathos as humour.

"There's a jolly melancholy," says Hegley. "I like to think that there's a tinge of sadness amongst the tinsel; a glowing melancholy, if you like, but jolliness also. Although I like to pull the rug away, once you've pulled it away, you get on it and you go flying."

20 December to 5 January (020-7223 2223)

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