Hugh Hughes and Sioned Rowlands
Barbican Pit

Production photo

Floating might be the ultimate feel-good show, at least for those who prefer the small-scale idyll to today's fast-paced video-game driven society. That does not mean that the show does not have pace, just that in order to generate it, the actors just race around the stage a little faster.

In a strange way, the story of Floating is proving to be a metaphor for the tale that it relates. The production, which started life thirteen long years ago on Anglesey, is slowly but surely touring the world, with the Edinburgh Festival, New York and now the Barbican in London under its belt.

There is a great irony in the fact that this comedy opened on the same night as The Lord of the Rings. The contrast could not be more apparent as Hoipolloi employs two actors, who have created their own show and have a single friend in the control box. By comparison, LOTR has a cast of fifty, more than that behind the scenes and a budget of £12.5 million, where one estimates that the total cost of putting together Floating would be an awful lot closer to £12.50.

The tall tale related by Hugh Hughes with the assistance of his versatile sidekick, Sioned Rowlands somehow got missed by the papers. On 1st April, 1982, as Hughes was about to follow so many of his countrymen away from the Isle of Anglesey forever, the strangest thing happened.

As his foot was raised to step on to the Menai Bridge, the structure collapsed and the island floated off into the Atlantic. As he points out, the headlines were dominated by Mrs Thatcher talking bellicosely about The Falklands War and as a result, this story disappeared.

After a ten minute preamble about his nain (granny), the Welsh language and the island on which he and his alter ego Shôn Dale-Jones were brought up, our hero launches into the charming tale of the 11-point trip, delineated in true Hoipolloi style by a lady in the audience with a clicker.

This is a real story of derring-do, commencing as a sadistic school teacher with overtones of Hitler takes control of the floating 80,000 strong population and creates a giant sailing vessel out of Anglesey.

At various times, it is projected by wind, whales and birds as it makes its way in a pattern through the Atlantic and Arctic that looks uncannily like the new Olympic logo.

The many high points include the moment when Hugh decides to swim for it. While talking in his usual enthusiastic but relaxed style, donning his fruity flotation device and greasing himself up with vaseline, he almost drowns poor Sioned, who is creating the sound effects face down in a bowl of water.

Where Lord of the Rings would use a long interval or spectacular curtain to cover a scene change, this pair asks us to close our eyes for half a minute before opening them to behold the memorable image of Hugh freezing in the Arctic wastes.

The reason why Floating works so well is a combination of remarkable old-fashioned innocence and great humour. The props, collected over a thirteen year period, support the action with a combination of 1970s wrestling mags, a slide show, PowerPoint and an awful lot of running about breathlessly.

By the end, the audience was laughing enthusiastically and the final applause exceeded all reasonable bounds.

This show has already won a Total Theatre Award and given Shôn Dale-Jones a Stage nomination in Edinburgh. Take this opportunity to see a consummate team at work and simultaneously save a lot of money. Top-price tickets for a family of five cost exactly the same as a single for its multimedia cousin at Drury Lane - don't miss out.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher

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