Less of a standup show, more a study of the universality of love, life and loss (with laughs) - ‘Penguins’ is Sean Hughes at the top of his game.
The Irish comedian has experienced the highs and lows of fame since the early twin successes of his own Channel Four series (Sean’s Show) and landing the Perrier Comedy Award back when it still mattered.
In recent years he’s moved toward the more autobiographical side of standup and this continues in ‘Penguins’, with the humour often coming secondary to pathos and personal revelation.
The MacGuffin-like title refers to how we often waddle aimlessly through the years, with Hughes using his own life as a prime example.
A hackneyed old joke provides a framing device, with a particularly snide tabloid article about Hughes the jumping-off point for an investigation of where his life went wrong and right.
The self-reflective journey takes in stories from school to middle age, with plenty of spontaneous material gatecrashing the more heavily-scripted sections.
Lasting well over two hours, in a less charming host’s hands the set could be a psychoanalytical trudge.
But, with an ever-inventive delivery involving ample props, playful audience interaction and myriad theatrical devices, it flies past with something approaching indecent haste.
Referencing everything from Beckett to The Human League, it’s a performance which wears its intelligence lightly - managing just the right balance of the perspicacious and hilarious.