Wil Hodgson admits at the start of his latest show that he’s not quite sure what shape it will take. It isn’t really one thing or another, he says; it’s part lecture, but also part ramble with a good measure of self-examination thrown in. He’s got a point; his material does tend to circle itself and he offers no real conclusions at the end of his set, but Hodgson’s an amazing conversationalist, a master of the art: it’s fascinating just being in the same room as him and listening to his various digressions and detours.
The subject of this show is sex: fetish and fantasy to be more precise. What begins as a fascinating discussion about the history of bondage in comic books – remarkably blatant before the advent of the Comics Code – evolves into a frank and confessional chronology of Hodgson’s own boyhood turn-ons. He lists his earliest screen crushes and tries to define the appeal that a certain kind of woman has to him; the Adam West-era Catwomen feature prominently on this list, as does Frenchie from the Pink Ladies, and he has a particular soft spot for Hattie Jacques and her magnificent matronly bosoms.
As the show progresses he tries to nail down his sexual tastes, identifying himself as lesbian in a man’s body (something Eddie Izzard also once said of himself, though I’m fairly sure Izzard used to greedily claim that he was two lesbians trapped in man’s body), and towards the end of the hour he starts to talk more explicitly about his tastes in pornography, which are of a soft-core and rather English strain: gentle mumsy smut with a bit of light spanking. In the process Hodgson examines his own stance on pornography and tries to square its particular appeal to him, as someone finds hard-core porn repellent on every level.
Despite swearing against it in the past, he uses Powerpoint to illustrate some of the cultural references: interspersing his material with choice stills from Grease and the Carry On films, Wonder Woman with her whips and chains, but these visual aids feel like an afterthought. What stands out us Hodgson’s openness and ability to give freely of himself, though there’s a sense with this show – more than his previous Chippenham-centric narratives – that he’s holding back a little, which is – in context – understandable. He also seems less angry than he has done in the past, less overtly dismayed by people’s capacity to be cruel to one another, but maybe that’s because he’s discussing things here that are, in his view, essentially pleasant: even when he’s describing the fantasy that gives the show its title, a reverie about being drugged and lashed to the tracks by Eartha Kitt, it’s clearly an idea he finds duvet-like and comforting.
Hodgson is one of those performers who’s nearly always compelling, a natural storyteller with an openness of manner and a liquid turn of phrase; this coupled with his willingness to pick over the paradoxes of his personality – to probe beneath his own inked skin – in front of an audience are rare qualities and they mark him apart, especially amid the often raucous din of the Edinburgh Fringe.