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Barbican, London

Andrew Field
posted 22 June 2007

As I watched the audience reluctantly leaving the auditorium after Floating , they were, almost without exception, grinning widely from ear to ear. They glowed with delight as they clutched the badges the actors had handed them; they examined each other’s hands to see the stamp they had all been given of the island of Anglesey in North Wales. I have very rarely seen an audience so unwilling to leave a theatre. Within those four walls they had found themselves captivated, transported, by an utterly compelling performer.

Hugh Hughes is as much comedian as he is actor or performance artist. He is smart, funny and lightening quick, all concealed beneath his enormously endearing wide-eyed grin and his soft Welsh lilt. When a group of audience members came in late he pounced as effectively as even the best comedians I have seen, sending laughter rippling through the Barbican’s Pit auditorium as if it was The Comedy Store or (more accurately considering this show’s origins) the Edinburgh festival. His informal, endearing persona had the audience utterly charmed. They were quickly ready to join in, to respond to his questions, to do as he bid.

The show itself is ostensibly about an event in 1982 in which the island of Anglesey came unmoored from the mainland and drifted off into the Atlantic Ocean, with Hughes, against his best efforts, still on it. Although the story itself has a pleasingly surreal quirkiness to it, what absolutely makes the show is its presentation. Hughes and his co-performer Sioned Rowlands are constantly interrupting their tale with asides, explanations, conversations with the audience or with each other. They dash around the stage manically, with a precise amateurishness that is effortlessly charming.

As much a lecture as it is a story, this seemingly meandering narrative allows Hughes to bombard the audience with a series of wonderful archaeological fragments, bits and pieces of remembered past, that slowly accumulate to create an intimate little universe entirely of Hughes’ imagining. Unconstrained by any sense of realism, the pair create an image of Anglesey as it exists in Hughes’ memory. Aided by the various mementos of his past scattered across the stage, tables, dresses, videos, slide shows, maps and charts, as well as Hughes’ own irresistible charm, they invite the audience into this memory of Anglesey; a place that, like the story’s’ floating island, moves ever further away from stone and soil Anglesey of North Wales. That real place is always lost. What we have left is an image, a ghost.

And perhaps it is this sense of loss pervading the show that, in part at least, made the audience so reluctant to leave the theatre. They knew all they would have left at the end would be a few half-accurate memories, a couple of remembered lines and maybe a feeling. But from the faces of those that left that auditorium, that feeling was unanimously one of warmth and contentment that will last long after the last of them has left the theatre.

Till 30 June 2007


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