Writer: Rob Auton
Reviewer: Jay Nuttall
Sleeping is easy. I mean, you can do it with your eyes closed. A smart joke early into Rob Auton’s one man show may fool you into thinking a gag-smith may be at work. While providing some outstanding jokes, Rob Auton’s 60 minutes on the subject of sleep is so much more than this.
We all do it. In fact, it takes up about a third of our lives – years spent going to bed, in slumber, catching zzzs, or, as Auton beautifully describes it, an extremely excessive blink. It is amazing that such an important part of our lives and something that unites almost all living things isn’t the subject matter of more work. The irony certainly isn’t lost to tired reviewers who often work late at night reviewing shows about … sleep! As with Auton’s previous one –man shows he takes a very specific subject matter. In previous Edinburgh shows he may have concentrated on the colour yellow, the sky, the face and water but this year it is our unconscious that is his muse.
Auton is a brave performer and is certainly an acquired taste. Dressed in a suit he looks more than a little tired as he explains that previous reviews have described him akin to an underprepared best man at a wedding. Nothing seems to faze Auton. He has a wonderful talent to create an atmosphere that is unpredictable and, as an audience member perhaps a little intimidating, yet totally safe at the same time. For the man who arrived five minutes late, he performed the first five minutes of his show again. For the lady whose mobile phone rang he simply replied “one-nil”. To the crane fly that flew onto stage during a very strange few minutes while he pretended to be the devil he simply left the theatre to remove it. To the 10 o’clock bells of Eccles Parish church, he simply confirmed the time for us – in case we were wondering. Auton’s effortless and spontaneous rapport with the audience immediately sets us at ease. When he is thirsty he picks up a bottle of water and drinks the entire contents. Nothing and no-one is in a rush in this show. In fact, one wonders whether an audience member nodding off may be the most welcome compliment he could wish for.
Picking up a homemade magazine entitled Take a Break… From Yourself, this becomes a sort of Bible as he leads us through all the thoughts he has had about the act of being asleep. As an audience,we help create a dream and help decipher some of our stranger dreams from a book he picked up for £1.50. Reminiscent in style to a Daniel Kitson, Auton shares some wonderfully funny ideas as well as philosophical musings. The finale of the show is a poetic rambling to himself. (Well, from Father Christmas to himself but that is a longer story). What Auton wants to achieve is a wake-up message to himself. A sort of carpe diem cry. It may seem self-indulgent but its message is universal. How much do we sleep through our lives? What does it mean to be awake? And, in the extreme, can sleep be a blessed a relief from a life we are unhappy with?
This is an extremely intelligent show from and extremely intelligent man. It certainly won’t be everyone’s late night cup of Horlicks but it sends you back out into the world wanting to grab it by the scruff of the neck again.
Reviewed on 9 September 2016 – touring until 30 October | Image: Contributed