Curious to see what all the fuss was about with the bright yellow shed outside Hull City Hall, a teenage lad poked his face into the doorway.
And then he yelped: “He’s got a shotgun in there – I’m getting away from here!”
Had Brendon Fearon and Fred Barras high-tailed it in similar fashion at Bleak House in Norfolk in 1999 Tony Martin wouldn’t have shot them and Richard Vergette would have had to find something else to write about.
But Fearon and Barras burgled, Martin opened fire and Vergette penned An Englishman’s Home, a 70-minute production in its full version which he squeezed into about 25 minutes and the aforementioned shed for the Freedom Festival.
The shed thing is one of the features of Freedom. There are about ten of them dotted around the city centre, all offering quality entertainment in cramped quarters. Something for everyone, although Vergette’s work is definitely one for the more mature audience.
In a remarkable parallel it was reported that a passing ruffian put his fist through one of the windows of the shed as he wobbled, drunk, through Hull city centre on the night before this performance. He was taken away to be treated and charged, and his escapade left two questions.
How hilarious would it have been if the production team had removed the glass, which was at one stage a consideration, and the drunk had ended up hurling himself fist first through the window and onto the floor of the shed?
Or how about if the thug had smashed the window mid-performance and found himself bleeding, angry and face-to-face with Vergette, his Scotch and shotgun? An Englishman’s shed may also be his castle.
Vergette’s story is straightforward, particularly to anyone who recalls the original incident or a few others like it.
What raises the production to the extraordinary is Vergette’s own captivating performance. He admitted afterwards that on a stage, in a good-size theatre, he is able to stand up, stroll around, lose the audience if only for a few seconds.
In a shed, with the audience more arm’s length than armchair, there is no hiding place and the preparation has to be perfect.
The four of us, perched on stools and including a photographer who shot at the actor repeatedly, were entranced. Outside, the chatter, shouts and sirens of a Saturday afternoon added to the intensity of the atmosphere. Business as usual on the other side of the brown paper covering what was left of the windows, while inside we watched every grin and grimace of a man wrestling with his conscience and the consequences of his actions, putting down his newspaper to take another slug of Scotch, and then resting the glass on the floor to embrace his shotgun as his mood leapt between defiance and despair.
Vergette reassured us before the show that the gun had been decommissioned and was no more menacing than a pea-shooter. In the confines of the shed, where you could hear every breath and track every bead of sweat on Vergette’s anxious brow, that reassurance was forgotten as soon as the door slammed shut.
Fistnote: The second window was apparently smashed by passing drunks during the Saturday night.