30 March 2009


Hugh Hughes Productions
18 March 2009
North Melbourne Town Hall

After eight shows this week, I wanted to go home and watch bad telly, especially as the city was shaking again and the sky was filled with black hawk helicopters – but I saw Floating - and now I’m a bit in love with creator Hugh Hughes.

As artists, we strive for authenticity and originality in a creative world where it’s all been done before. As audiences, we crave connection and recognition that breaks away from the generic superficiality of “entertainment”. It’s rarely the technically perfect artists or the dazzlingly spectacular shows that we remember - rather it’s the creators who are brave enough to show us their hearts and souls and welcome the audience into their world.

Floating, is one of these shows. Presented by UK company Hoipolloi, it was created by artist Hugh Hughes in collaboration with Sioned Rowlands. Combining magical realism with direct intimacy, its themes of connection and disconnection, decision and choice resonate way beyond its Isle of Anglesey setting.

From the moment Rowlands, as Hughes’s Nain (grandmother), introduces Hughes, there is no us and them. Hugh and Sioned chat directly to the audience and explain what they are going to do. Both are instantly likeable, but aren’t afraid to temper their niceness with a bitter touch of hilarious condescension. To help us connect they hand around objects like Nain’s 1970s wrestling magazines, a blow up globe and a souvenir flag from Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (you’ll get to practice saying it and if you want to be really smart – it means "The church of St Mary in the hollow of white hazel trees near the rapid whirlpool by St Tysilio's of the red cave). They even replay the beginning of the show for the benefit of a latecomer – after Hughes makes sure that there’s no resentment if they do so – because “a sense of resentment would be horrible”. (If only all shows would stop and check if the audience resented what they were doing…)

The design is as quaint as a sea-side tea house with a wooden food trolley holding the tech desk and a green doily hiding the harshness of the laptop computer, but the world created with slides, an overhead projector, the hidden laptop and their homemade props is more evocative and real than a Spielberg blockbuster.

The story is Hughes’s memories from the time he tried to leave his home of Anglesey in 1982, but an earthquake hit and the island was swept into the North Atlantic Ocean. (The rest of the world didn’t know about this because Margaret Thatcher was focussing attention on the South Atlantic and the Falkland Islands.) And the irony that Melbourne experienced another tremor that afternoon was not lost on any of us.

The faults in Floating are irrelevant. It could be tightened and polished, but its imperfections might be the secret to its appeal. By trusting their hearts and trusting that audiences want to connect, Hughes and Rowands ignored the rules to create a perfect piece of theatre.

The Arts House program at the North Melbourne Town Hall continues to bring some of the most extraordinary performances to our city. Floating finishes on Sunday night, so don’t waste time thinking about it – just go.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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