Writer: Michael Pennington
Featuring: John Henshaw
Reviewer: Laura Orton
With the show entitled ‘An Audience With Johnny Vegas’, the audience should be forgiven for believing that they are actually be going to see Johnny Vegas. However, this is not the case. As one drunken heckler so directly repeated, “I JUST DON’T KNOW [WHAT YOU’RE ON ABOUT]?!?!” over and over again, obviously angry that he had not seen the man on the billing.
An Audience With Johnny Vegas is in fact a spoken word event where by Vegas’s creator Michael Pennington (same bloke different voice) promotes his new autobiography ‘Becoming Johnny Vegas’. Vegas on the other hand is being “kept in a box in the attic” in semi-retirement. The softly spoken, gentle Pennington is joined on stage by actor John Henshaw to help the conversation along.
The book being discussed is all about Pennington’s attempts to trace back his Vegas alter ego to his conception. While Pennington openly admits that now he can only really become Vegas when he is drunk, he does recognise that the character began to form far earlier than he originally thought, dating back to his teenage years.
Pennington recalls how he grew up as a Catholic in training to be a priest. However he soon wanted to rid himself of the “Catholic guilt” and the abuse that he saw so he distanced himself from the church. But once he returned to a mainstream school, he no longer fit in there either. Isolated and bullied by his peers, Pennington started to hear the voice of Vegas in his head. He would think of funny and insulting comebacks to their jeers, but he could never say them out loud. Instead, he would just tell them that he would pray for them. He then discusses his early career as the voice of Vegas finally came out (with the help of a lot of booze).
Pennington always refers to Vegas in the third person, as though he is a character from a book he had just started reading. Yet he also acknowledges that Vegas is the confident, confrontational part of him that comes out once he’s had a few. So sometimes the third person speech comes across as a contradiction because its clear that Vegas is not ‘just’ a fictional character but rather an extension of himself. At times it sounds egotistical. But at other times it just sounds like Pennington is a little bit mad. He says himself “my biggest fear about writing this book was being locked up afterwards”. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde come to mind.
Pennington and Henshaw jump through the past discussing various themes of the book. There is no clear structure and seems like the conversation hasn’t been planned at all. It is unclear what Henshaw brings to this event. He rambles on at the beginning and it is hard to understand what he is saying. Neither of them have particularly clear voices and with two such strong accents, its easy to miss words, especially since this is an unscripted event so there are lots of filler umms and ahhs. It doesn’t help that the opening five minutes is also being used for a slideshow of pictures from when Vegas was growing up, showing a variety of embarrassing haircuts, fashion sense and old keepsakes. These pictures, while entertaining, distract you from what is being said by the two men. The slides then stop for a period but are played on a loop again another three times throughout the night, each time taking your gaze to the large screen behind them and your mind away from the sombre subject at hand.
The £20 ticket price does include a copy of the book in question, and the proceeds of the night do go to a charity but even then this seems like a steep price to pay for just over an hour of two men having a conversation about ‘another man’ who is not even there. Maybe if there was honesty in the advertising for the event, you wont be disappointed, but then how many people are going to turn up to see ‘Michael Pennington interviewed by John Henshaw’?
An Audience With Johnny Vegas is very disappointing for many reasons. It lacks structure, it lacks humour, it lacks interest…But most of all, it lacks Johnny Vegas.