N&N Festival, Hoipolloi The Duke review: fact and fiction mesh together in satisfying fashion

Hoipolloi's The Duke. Picture: Brian Roberts

Hoipolloi's The Duke. Picture: Brian Roberts - Credit: Brian Roberts

In celebration of Hoipolloi's 25th anniverary Shôn Dale-Jones performed The Duke at Oxfam, in Norwich, as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival.

ShÔn Dale Jones begins his one man show by telling us that we are all just human beings doing the best we can to keep our heads above water.

It's a well coined summary of his story. A tale of his mother's buoyancy in the face of grief, counterpointed with the tragic account of a boat full of Syrian refugees who drowned without trace.

It might not sound like a barrel of laughs. But it is funny. The script has also been adapted as Radio 4 Play of the Week. So you could say, it's a bit of a hit.

There are good reasons why.

Dale-Jones delivers the show in such an informal way, you could even start to think that it's just a chat with a friend. He even operates his own sound effects with a click on the laptop.

His setting could not be less theatrical. When he swings his feet, he catches the cable attaching his sound-desk-cum-stage to the plug socket. 'It's only half built, this theatre,' he quips.

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It's charmingly low-fi, there is nothing to divide us from him, and that makes a neat point. There are no borders here.

Anecdote, fact and fiction mesh together in satisfying fashion. The refugee crisis is always in the background, as it is in our own lives. But the forefront of the narrative is taken up with his mother and his work. We follow this order of things in a perfectly natural way.

The Duke of the title is a little porcelain figure that was once a prized possession of the actor's father. It gets broken at the beginning. His mother's heart-broken reaction plants the seeds of compassion and understanding that will ultimately set everyone's lives on a better track.

Since 2016, the project has raised over £50,000 for child refugees. Catch this, and other plays performed by Dale-Jones' company Hoipolloi, during a continuing run at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival.