Jon Bennett: How I Learned to Hug

8 November, Common Room
By Ian Thomas

Jon Bennett tells stories. He tells tales of his past, of interactions with well remembered characters: Characters who have scarred him, characters who have swelled is heart; Anecdotes of joy, of shame, of awkward encounters, of his journey’s tumultuous touchstones. Unabashed, he brazenly tells stories of life. In a pink dress, with humour and pathos.

The audience is drawn in right from the start. Bennett’s high energy delivery charges the room. We are witnesses to a piece of theatre that is unexpected. Even those in the room that have seen Bennett’s other shows, Fire In The Meth Lab, Pretending Things Are Cocks, My Dad’s Deaths, are taken by the depth of emotion and genius of this show.

The story bursts out of an early memory. The dress appears, peeing into a cup is enacted, and Jon’s Nan yells “Faggot” at him. The audience are involved. Some as actors, the rest engrossed.

How I learned to Hug is about relationships: Jon’s childhood crushes, his adolescent infatuations, his self-discovery, his self-protecting introversion, and his emotional rebirth as a hugger. It’s about naivety, pain, and discovery. We are encouraged to share our experiences as freely as Bennett shares his. Our minds are united as we think back to our youth. Our first special friend, first kiss, first masturbation experience, losing our virginity, first committed relationship, then break-up. The audience’s immersion into the show is a hallmark of Bennett’s theatre. As he bares himself he relates his experiences to ours. Bennett’s ability to elicit empathy, sympathy, laughter, and understanding at the same time is a wonder.

Unflattering, familiar reminiscences are woven through recurring themes of running away, missing flights, and impulsively speaking without thinking. Characters reappear on the screen at the back of the stage as the story loops itself from recent past to distant past and back again. Screen show, music, costume, and story teller unite to deliver a rich performance.

Tonight’s show takes the spotlight that Bennett shone on his family in the previously mentioned shows and shines it on his own life. That coupled with his skill, energy, humour, passion, professionalism, and originality leave us enthralled. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, collectively we’ve discussed and observed some bawdy subject matter. Nothing gratuitous. We’ll be thinking back on this show for many days to come and we’ll be snapping up tickets the next time Bennett hits town.

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