John Hegley

The performance poet proves to be a most charming man at the Out To Lunch Festival

The first week of the Out to Lunch Festival always manages to blast the post-holiday blues away with a welcome quota of big belly laughs, and John Hegley contributes with alacrity.

Though described as a poet, Hegley is more than that. He is like the best teacher you never had. Indeed, at one point he quips, with self-deprecating humour, that his show is for those with 'teaching difficulties'. It’s clear that his educational work, which he talks about briefly, provides great inspiration.

Hegley's performance is poignant, whimsical and downright silly. By his own admission this show is still a work in progress, not that it matters much. The quality of his reading, and singing, carries the material.

Hegley's style of reciting, with exaggerated elocution and diction, is distinctive and endearing. The lyricism of his intelligent and wry poetry is well suited to his use of an electric mandolin, which he plays throughout the two halves of the gig.

Like the consumate comedian, Hegley interacts with his audience to great effect. Calling for a French speaker, an audience member volunteers to translate a poem, with hilarious results. Later, the same individual is called on stage to read simultaneously with Hegley. At one point, Hegley even divides the room into three sections to harmonise choruses whilst he strums his mandolin.

A sense of fun and participation are obviously essential aspects of Hegley's performance. He's not averse to a little drama, however.

As he reads of his French paternal grandmother and her half remembered letters, he takes time to pause and gauge audience reaction, which further endears him to the crowd. It is an unusual but heartfelt way of performing and it’s obvious that Hegley thrives on the interaction.

It is perhaps apt then, at the end of the gig, that Hegley asks for his favourite post-Christmas song to be played: the Smiths' 'This Charming Man'. The effect is like that of a much-loved chant at a home football ground. I couldn’t disagree and judging by the smiles all around, nor does everyone else.