Hoipolloi’s latest Hugh Hughes project sees the ‘emerging Welsh artist’ once again head back to Llangefni , Anglesey, this time to help his mum pack up and sell the family home. Along with the usual mix of multimedia tools – film, audio recordings, clipboards (no flip charts this time) – he’s joined by his brother Derwyn and sister Delyth, and together they continue Hugh’s ongoing excavation of the past and his ever-changing relationship to it. But this time, because of his siblings’ input, rather than just Hugh’s version of events, the focus is on the multiple narratives and perspectives intrinsic to family life.
Themes from Hugh’s previous shows – Floating, The Story of a Rabbit and 360 – surface repeatedly, and here they become increasingly layered as he seeks corroboration and embellishment from the feuding Delyth and Derwyn, who have their own complicated story to untangle. Family, friendship, the pull of home… all are interrogated via the cascade of memories triggered as soon as Hugh steps inside the two front doors (as with all of his shows, it’s the little details that are the most delicious) of his childhood home. The more he engages with the appurtenances of his past, the deeper he is plunged into his family narrative. He engages with each memory as it emerges, examining its emotional resonance in the present and tracing its origins. What happened to Derwyn’s homing pigeons? What was said after Delyth caught Hugh trying on her ballet outfit? That time Delyth thought Derwyn had ‘stolen’ her bathwater, did she call him a ‘fucking fuck’ or a ‘fucking fuckhead’?
As a device for exploring the notion of fiction versus reality, of the nature of performance in a structured environment (the theatrical space) and in everyday interactions, Hugh Hughes (the alter ego of Hoipolloi’s Artistic Director Shôn Dale-Jones) is a tantalising mix of whimsy and pathos, naïvety and obsession. In exploring the multi-layered nature of relationships, the confusion and complexity of emotional attachment, the Hugh Hughes projects tackle audience assumptions in an endearing but no less challenging way. The work is so totally immersive, that it’s easy to forget the artificiality of the set-up, and to find yourself debating the nuances of the Hughes family unit. Sophie Russell and Andrew Pembrooke are totally convincing as Hugh’s bickering siblings – particularly Pembrooke, who imbues Derwyn with a hilariously awkward presence.
There’s so much going on here that it’s not surprising to find there’s an online world, including films, audio recordings and poems, that further explores Hugh’s family history (www.invisibletownstories.co.uk), like a shoebox with unlimited capacity stashed under the bed (including a story about his ‘changeling hair’ that catalogues his parents’ attempts to explain his ‘difference’ – both in temperament and physicality – to the rest of the family, which marked him out as not being a Hughes at all). You could get lost for hours.
The pacing is gentle, despite the urgency of the memories, and even the interval is used to test audience assumptions (if the piece seems a little long at times, it quickly becomes apparent that every moment is serving double – if not triple – duty). Wonderful stuff.