— Hugh Hughes in Floating. Photo by Jaimie Gramston.
Like many a PuSh import over the years, Floating is one of those shows you’re either going to love or hate. It’s with some regret that I count myself in the latter category. I would have preferred to have found Welsh storyteller Hugh Hughes endearing, smart, witty, sweet. Instead I found him unimaginative and annoying.
Hughes and his onstage companion, and co-creator, Sioned Rowlands tell a rambling tale about the Isle of Anglesea floating off into the North Atlantic. It’s a classic shaggy dog story—a tangled narrative with no real point; a stand-up routine without a punchline. The payoff in this kind of theatre has to come from the novelty of the tale and the charm and skill of the teller.
The story itself is fairly wacky, and it’s told using an array of mostly low-tech props scattered around the stage: an old-fashioned slide projector, pieces of old furniture Hughes claims came from his grandma’s house on Anglesea. Plus a computer and digital projector.
But the evening is almost entirely about Hughes, who intentionally upstages his story. He cheerily chats up the audience, passes his grandmother’s wrestling magazines around, comments every time there’s a laugh on how curious it is that people are laughing. He plays the metatheatrical card so frequently and heavy-handedly that it quickly loses its charm. On opening night he spent about ten minutes daring someone in the audience—anyone—to take off their clothes, for no particular reason. Rowlands plays a sort of dull-witted magician’s assistant to Hughes, but he never pulls a rabbit out of the hat.
Maybe I just didn’t get it. Others have found his show endearingly clever. I found it tediously banal.
Just for the record, the hit-or-miss quality of PuSh offerings sometimes pays off big time. Circa, the Australian “new circus” company which PuSh presented for only a few nights at this year’s festival, gave one of the most stunningly brilliant performances I have ever seen.