Shôn Dale-Jones couldn’t make this show himself – he is too pessimistic – so it’s left to Hugh Hughes, his alter ego to step in and stand in front of us to re-create the life and death of his father. Hugh is more than capable, mind. He’s been emerging for 15 years. Most importantly though, he’s not alone. He has Daniel Hughes (Julian Spooner), his father, by his side. It’s just them. And us. The house lights are on, there is no fourth wall, so no artificial darkness to suspend disbelief. It’s all about truth, not the raw kind but the shifting sands type. The magic where fantasy and reality merge. Even the bit about the show being especially for us, tonight. It is. It is. It is. Hugh and Daniel are making each moment in the moment together again and again and again.
The ladder Daniel Hughes fell off, from the top of a church bell tower becomes the journey of his life flashing in front of him. Like Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo. But Hugh is no Hitchcock, although he plays cameos in the episodes of his father’s life. Hugh has, of course, selected these moments for his father. Who doesn’t seem to mind too much. He trusts his son as caretaker of his story. There are no hints of unreliable narration implicit, apart from very funny disagreement about wine gums vs fruit pastels. After all, our first experience of theatre is our own families where the devil is in the detail. But I don’t want to get carried away here and make this sound too intense because the show isn’t. It’s warm, funny and dances a graceful and gentle line between playfulness and pathos.
Daniel Hughes is a beautiful, forever young character, a Jimmy Stewart everyman indeed. Ordinary and extraordinary. But there’s no It’s A Wonderful Life ending for a grocery shop owner in Thatcher’s Britain where it is clear that despite everything, there is nothing as cruel as hope when it is all you have to keep going.
So there are no surprises for us or Hugh or Daniel. We know how it ends. They refer to their script, the rungs of the ladder made real, but are open to suggestions from the audience to keep it all alive and moving forward. Their past having a future. Hugh offers a notebook round to the audience, for suggestions and thoughts. I’m sitting slap bang in the second row, with a notebook, and with the house lights on I feel exposed and a bit of a twit. Hugh notices of course, mentions it quite kindly, I think. I can only shrug. I haven’t got an awful lot to add to his notebook. But I do feel rude I didn’t. So please accept my apologies, Hugh, and I hope this will do.
The Ladder was at PULSE Festival in Ipswich on 4th June. It tours to Latitude Festival in July. More info here.