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Production photo from Floating

Floating to Fame

Philip Fisher talks to Hugh Hughes and Shôn Dale-Jones of Hoipolloi Theatre

It is never easy to interview a person who does not exist. However, the intrepid journalist will always persevere and wacky stage star Hugh Hughes turns out to be the loveliest non-existent man that you could hope to meet.

He is the star of Hoipolloi Theatre's comedy fantasy Floating, which is reaching London's Barbican Theatre on 19th June.

Hughes and the company's artistic director Shôn Dale-Jones kindly agreed to discuss a show that has already proved to be a hit on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and off-Broadway in New York.

Floating is a two-hander in which the sweet-natured Hugh Hughes is joined by compatriot Sioned Rowlands to remind us of the notorious April Fool's Day in 1982, when the Menai Bridge collapsed and the island of Anglesey set off on a whistle-stop tour of the globe.

Both Hughes and Dale-Jones are young-looking, bearded men, who could easily be mistaken for identical twins. They share a similar artistic outlook, believing that strong stories and offbeat humour will appeal to audiences of every age and interest. Where they differ is in the broadness of the Welsh accent and the seriousness of their delivery.

Shôn Dale-Jones was born in Llangevny on Anglesey. While studying film and drama at the University of East Anglia, he honed his writing and performing skills as a stand-up comedian and still has something of the stand-up about him today.

Subsequently, he spent two years at the highly-regarded Jacques Lecoque International Theatre School in Paris before setting up Hoipolloi. Now, as well as being artistic director, he writes, directs and performs. His success can be judged from the number of shows and the numerous countries that they have toured, primarily in Europe and America.

What the company strives for is influenced by film-maker Luis Bunuel and can be summarised as an attempt to explore "the collision between the imagination and reality, how we actually experience and remember and the struggle for us to communicate, one to another". That may sound daunting but in fact, their shows could hardly be lighter or more enjoyable. As Dale-Jones explains, "through laughter you become more open to possibilities".

Floating has been in the making throughout the company's thirteen year life and therefore must be regarded as a real labour of love. Anyone who has seen this cross between mixed media, performance art and story telling will be well aware of the attention that its creators have paid to detail. While it is carefully scripted, it is the low-budget props that really appeal, with the cheery couple involving the audience at every opportunity.

The source of the play is its creator's Welsh identity and that means a great deal to Anglesey-born Hugh Hughes. "A lot of Floating is about the places we come from. They will always have a hand in shaping who we are and I suppose I'm beginning to get to grips with what identity is".

Wryly, he observes that when he was in New York, he met up with a couple of men and knew that they were Welsh on sight: "their faces looked like they came from the mountains, the lines that were shooting over there foreheads were like rivers and valleys and their faces looked like rocks, somehow fossilised by the mountains of Wales. Those things fascinate me".

Following the Barbican run, Floating, which last year won a Total Theatre Award and a Stage nomination for Best Actor at the Fringe, will be returning to Edinburgh with a sister piece, Story of a Rabbit, also starring Hugh Hughes but this time with a new sidekick, Aled.

As part of the dual project, Hoipolloi are video recording the two shows as they tour around the globe. Once the film is complete, the company will take it around Wales to demonstrate how a local boy can make good and conquer the world.

It is always pleasing to see a Welshman with ambition. When a pair have the good nature and gentle sense of humour of a Hugh Hughes or Shôn Dale-Jones, one must wish them well in every venture that they undertake.

If you have the chance to get up to London or Edinburgh, pop in and see what all the fuss is about. You will not be disappointed.

Floating plays at the Barbican from 19th to 30th June, 2007, and then as part of the British Council showcase at Pleasance in Edinburgh from 20th to 27th August. Story of a Rabbit is at Pleasance from 1st to 27th August.

You can hear Philip Fisher's interview with Shôn Dale-Jones and Hugh Hughes on www.theatrevoice.com

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©Peter Lathan 2007