Since winning a Total Theatre Award at the Fringe in 2006, Hoipolloi Theatre and Hugh Hughes have captivated audiences across the UK with Hugh’s unique style of charming storytelling and observations.
Next week, Hugh will be appearing in The Wonderful World of Hugh Hughes at The Traverse, a residency featuring all of his shows to date (Floating, 360 and Story of a Rabbit); as well as two new interactive multimedia works, Stories From An Invisible Town and Hugh Hughes: How I Got Here.
We caught up with the ’emerging artist’ himself to find out a little bit more about his wonderful world.
Tell us, if you will, a little about yourself…
I’m an emerging artist from Wales (North Wales, Anglesey, Llangefni to be precise). Before 2004, I was working in Anglesey creating slide shows of Beached Whales. This is where I met Shon from Hoipolloi and he invited me to create my first theatre show, Floating. Since then I’ve been on amazing journey, creating all kinds of work and touring it right across the world.
When do you think – if ever – you will have finished emerging? What would it feel like?
In the film I’ve created, How I Got Here, my friend Sioned (who performs with me in Floating) has said that she definitely thinks that I’ve emerged. Especially as we’ve now brought all my work together in this residency. But I’m not so sure. It’s a title that was given to me by the Arts Council and so I suppose it’s up to them to decide.
I guess in the end, it doesn’t really matter what they call me, what matters is that I make a connection with an audience and that we share together our experiences and our stories.
Tell us a little more about Stories from an Invisible Town and How I Got Here – what can we expect from them?
When Louise Jeffreys, from the Barbican Centre in London, first invited me to bring all my work together to create The Wonderful World of Hugh Hughes residency, she was keen that I shared not only existing work but new ideas too.
I had enormous fun creating the film, How I Got Here. It combines lots of footage that I’ve made over the past 6 years alongside interviews with my family and other people who’ve collaborated with me. It really has helped me to understand the story of how I got here.
Stories from an Invisible Town is about me sharing stories from my childhood in Llangefni. I also thought it’d be really interesting to try to share the rehearsal room with an audience in case an audience might also enjoy the rehearsal room experience more than the performance experience.
Sioned says she loves going to restaurants where you can see the chefs preparing the food in the kitchen. She says that sometimes watching them make the food is more pleasurable than eating it. The truth is that this is all a bit of an experiment. But one that’s got to be worth trying.
What makes Llangefni such an interesting place to base some of your work on?
My homeland of Anglesey and more specifically the town of Llangefni is hugely important to me; it’s where I come from and has very much shaped who I am. It’s also where my family are and where my father was born, lived and is buried.
For me, it’s this deep connection and the memories that it holds that makes Llangefni such an interesting place to base my work on.
What do you like about visiting – and performing – in Edinburgh?
It’s a great pleasure to be returning to Edinburgh and I’m grateful that Dominic from the Traverse has invited me back. Audiences here are so welcoming and friendly and I’ve made lots of great connections with people here. This will be my fifth visit to the city to perform shows and yet everytime I come, there’s still always something new to discover. It’s a beautiful and inspiring place and coming here helps to refresh my creativity.
We then went on to ask Hugh’s alter ego and creator Shon a few questions…
What’s it like experiencing the world through Hugh’s wide-eyed wonder?
It really is quite incredible. Energising, fun and very special. Hugh creates a comfortable environment for himself and the audience and in this space, it’s amazing the feelings, the laughter and the emotions that people are happy to share.
What parts of yourself are similar to Hugh; and what parts are different?
Hugh is an emphasis on certain parts of my character that are extended and exaggerated. The energy, the desire to create connections and to tell stories that we can all understand and relate to. I’ve always enjoyed playing comic characters – when I’m playing Hugh it provides a liberty and freedom to leave parts of myself behind. I think Hugh’s naivety and constant questioning of the world and the people around him enables him to explore things that I wouldn’t as myself.
Your work plays with the notion of what is real, what is remembered and what is imagined – can you tell us of any times where this has caused confusion – either for you or for those around you?
My mum often gets quite confused about the difference between us, especially as I often adapt real autobiographical stories, heighten their theatricality and then adopt them into the world of Hugh.
She appears in the film we’ve created and had a lot of fun working with the actors who play my brother and sister. She’s a real natural on camera. But there were a lot of takes where she ended up calling me Shon instead of Hugh and we’d have to start all over again.
If you had to sum up your work – Hugh and Hoipolloi – how would you do that? What affect would you want it to have on those who see it?
I think that my work contains some common themes, like fantasy and the imagination, the importance of human relationships and I suppose a basic desire to share my own experiences with audiences, as honestly and directly as I can, in the hope that my stories will make people laugh and think and that people will be able to relate them back to their own lives.
Our thanks go to Hugh (and Shon) for taking the time to answer our questions.
The Wonderful World of Hugh Hughes will be taking up residency at The Traverse from 5 – 9 October – more details are available on the Traverse website.