Simon Egerton is already playing the electric piano when we enter the bar. It’s like he’s always been there, tinkling away, smiling at half-forgotten memories. Taking on the persona of Paul, he starts in the present, lamenting or perhaps admitting with relief that he prefers a cup of tea to a boozy session, an early night to a night on the town. How the official people, police and doctors, all look so young and seem to be there to remind us that we have peaked, that we are ‘over the hill’. But it was not always like that. He can remember the days when smoking inside was acceptable. More than acceptable, that was how it was. Paul relates the story of how he tried his first puff of a cigarette because he had romantic notions of film stars and cigarettes and ‘image is everything’. Predictably, the episode does not end well.
The audience grows with Paul and witnesses his version of family events, from his own campness, his mother’s visitors, her loss (which moved me to tears) and her death, to his reaching an understanding of his father.
There is so much about this performance that is almost melancholy but also lightly dusted with a perfect balance of humour and pathos. The moment when Paul describes his need for the perfect plum, not too sour, not too sweet because ‘sweetness is no compensation for being stung’ by the wasps that appear as the fruit ripens. But this could be seen as a subtle metaphor for his life and the balance he is striving to achieve. There is a more than a touch of Brel or even Sondheim about the songs and he becomes almost Shakespearean towards the end, but given Egerton’s impressive theatrical history it is to be expected, and it is to our benefit that he writes with such form.
Egerton’s prose elevates the everyday to the sublime, with poetic metaphors peeking out from every corner and delicious descriptions of a family fraught with secrets but laced with love. He paints this wonderful portrait using his palette of understated compassion for the human condition. I am left feeling neither happy nor sad but strangely comforted and that wonderful feeling lingers.