Mike Edwards’s moving and entertaining solo show Damn Seagulls is a show about hats, but not actually about hats. It’s a series of loosely strung together sketches, anecdotes and poems, but really, it’s just one story. A story about love, and loss, and the nuances and nostalgia of grief.
A slightly nervy but nonetheless engaging performer, Edwards has seamed his show with plenty of humour. Using a variety of props and video projections – yes, actual hats do feature large – he meanders through set pieces encompassing everything from poems about James Bond by a pissed off Moneypenny to YouTube-style commentators and washed up old rock stars. Some of these work well, some less so – a few of the routines feel stretched beyond the material – but woven through the whole piece is a much more compelling story: that of Edwards and his brother Stephen.
A comically retold school trip to Whitby becomes a tale of sibling solidarity that looms large after Stephen’s death; a jokey baseball cap transforms into a symbol of much more. It’s in these moments that the piece is at its rawest and most powerful, smart and eloquent about loss in a way that goes far beyond the easy clichés. It recognises the exhaustion of grief, and its power to contort both the past and the future, so that it becomes the lens through which everything is viewed. It acknowledges how losing someone unexpectedly and well before their time can leave you not just grieving an individual loss, but can overturn your whole life, your belief system: when you tell someone everything will be fine, and it’s not; when you believe someone will always be there for you, and suddenly they are gone.
Although it’s not the most polished of shows – at times it felt a little stumbling and unpractised – it’s this eloquently expressed truth that elevates it beyond the norm. It’s silly and often surreal, but it’s also honest and emotional. In common with shows like Jack Rooke’s Good Grief and James Rowland’s Team Viking, it isn’t afraid to blend genuine heart-felt grief with humour – indeed, to see that the two are so often necessarily linked, because what is more absurd that death and all its trappings? Sometimes we all have the urge to giggle at a funeral – if we didn’t, how would we cope at all?
Damn Seagulls runs at the Alphabetti Theatre, Newcastle until 13th March, and tours to ARC Stockton in May. More info here.