This one’s a bit of a nostalgia trip, Wil Hodgson warns us. But there’s always been something nostalgic about the Chippenham chronicler, though hardly of the Werther’s Original variety. Hodgson’s shows from his 2004 Perrier win to last year’s ode to soft-core bondage Kidnapped by Catwoman, have returned repeatedly to childhood anxieties and adolescent crises. They’re filled with childhood friends and half-friends, semi-bullies with frightening names, Hodgson’s feelings of isolation and otherness, and long, sweaty-palmed encounters with dubious drug dealers. Leave the Landing Light On sees him focus more closely on his formative experiences than ever before, and it’s as clever, profound and moving set.
Hodgson wants to talk about fear. He wants to tell us about the things that frightened him, and the things that should have but that he took to heart instead. It comes as no surprise that perennial loner Hodgson identified more with Frankenstein the monster than the man, or that the pantheon of Universal Studios monsters appealed to his sense of kinship amongst outcasts.
Other material may be familiar to some, depending on how close to Hodgson’s own your interests lie, but although the creepiness of Public Information Films and childhood games of Bloody Mary are hardly original observations, they’re discussed with Hodgson’s usual precise and understated humour. His skill as a storyteller is unimpeachable, still comfortably ahead of his peers and growing in dynamic range with each passing show. Where five years ago his demeanour flirted with the threatening (though always intelligently undercut it), there’s a new warmth to his delivery which invites the audience to enter his world rather than emphasises his separateness from it. When Hodgson lost his mohican, he also found a new range of expressive skills to contain and demark his vulnerability without resorting to defensiveness. Ease was never a word you could or wanted to associate with his prickly act, but it proves the key to a new and encouraging dimension.
For a comedian with a lefter than left reputation, his political observations are consistently well-considered and free from choir-preaching tub-thumppery. He didn’t hate Thatcher in 1982, she just got in the way of his children’s TV marathons. He didn’t find Dennis the Menace a reprehensible figure for his bolshy heteronormativity, he found him exciting and even joined his fan club. He certainly preferred him to Biffo the Bear, who he correctly identifies as an absolute tosser.
Where Catwoman felt more like Hodgson thinking aloud as he worked through the possible inspirations for his adult sexuality, his new show is considerably more polished. The addition of a slide-show, that last year somehow detracted from his focus and trade-mark thousand-yard stare, feels far more integrated and welcome.
Hodgson’s venue and audience seems to be shrinking when it should be growing year on year. He’s one of Britain’s finest stand-ups and Leave the Landing Light On finds him as reliably hilarious and inventive as ever. They say that Hodgson’s an acquired taste, so acquire some taste and book your goddamned tickets.