John Hegley's Biscuit of Destiny

John Hegley
Summerhall

John Hegley and a Rich Tea biscuit Credit: Polly Hancock

The audience enters Cairn's Lecture Theatre (if they find it in time in the heart of the Summerhall labyrinth) to Hegley sat strumming ambient but quite lovely music on acoustic guitar.

Unfortunately, this isn't one of those Fringe shows that includes free tea and biscuits. Keats features quite strongly in the narrative of this show, and it is from him that the biscuit reference comes: he met a woman in Ireland being transported in some kind of kennel who the poet said seemed to be suffering from a "scarcity of biscuit".

The woman features in some of Hegley's poems—but it's a while before the biscuits reappear—but then the rest of the show is mostly autobiographical. He says the facts may not all be true facts, but they have a grain—or maybe a crumb—of truth.

There are several of Hegley's distinctive drawings on slides in the show—including seven elephants, three of which we had to vote on later—but the story begins with a domestic scene in his childhood home in Luton. He picks out several details on which to elaborate, but curiously never mentions the Dalek on the TV. Then they moved from Luton to Bristol, shown in a new drawing, and we are introduced to his grandad, who was half-French, and his dad, who was was also part-French and part-English, and his violin teacher Miss Derbyshire, whom he disliked.

Of course all this storytelling is interspersed with poems, some spoken and some sung, and plenty of audience participation for singing and actions—he said we didn't have to join in with this, but prepare to be judged on the quality of your actions if you do. When I attended, one man was particularly criticised for his jellyfish in the "Guillemot" song, but in return he got to finish the show by feeding his choice of Biscuit of Destiny to the Camel of Hope—a remarkable creation built by Hegley himself.

I assume by the negotiations between Hegley and his technician that there are variations between performances, but whichever bits you get, it's a lovely hour of stories, music, poetry and silliness, perfect for after lunch.

Reviewer: David Chadderton