This show, Willy Hudson began by saying, is about himself. It is written by himself, is directed by himself and executive produced by himself. Almost immediately, I thought of Barry Humphries, accepting an award for Best Solo Performance some years ago. “It’s wonderful to be a solo performer,” he mused, “because then, you have no one to thank.” Unlike so much in Hudson’s show, however, it is not too much of a spoiler to say the whole ‘me, myself and I’ introduction is more than a little misleading. An entire page in the programme, headed ‘Welcome Home Team’, lists thirty-seven people and organisations, including Hudson. As many in the entertainment industry like to say, it takes a ‘village’ to put on a show. But the technique of lowering the audience’s expectations pays off for Hudson – what might have been yet another self-indulgent woe-is-me extravaganza about a young gay man coming out to the world as though he were the first person ever to do so, instead is a nuanced exploration of various aspects of his personal life over the years.
There is rather more stagecraft than most single-performer shows, which Hudson largely uses to his advantage, especially when his relatively elaborate set appears to show signs of falling apart (deliberate set mishaps are nothing new to the London stage, the Michael Frayn play Noises Off, enjoying a West End revival at the time of writing, and the Goes Wrong series from Mischief Theatre, being cases in point). The role of religion in his formative years is discussed in some detail – his parents belonged to a non-conformist church that believed homosexuals were going to Hell.
Some childhood memories are retold in remarkable detail – it’s clear what sorts of incidents and occurrences are highly memorable for Hudson. The passage of time being what it is, it’s almost frightening, at least to me, to think there are now people who have never used dial-up internet, having always used broadband for as long as they can remember. I got a whiff of nostalgia listening to the sounds of the modem connecting to the web, as I did listening to certain chart music songs from at least twenty years ago.
Hudson may not have been subjected in the charismatic church to the sort of sexual abuse he might have suffered in other faith groups, but the feelings of guilt and shame were nonetheless prevalent, and he found a way of telling church elders so, separately, some years later. To borrow from a statement in 2021 from the Royal Household on an entirely different matter, “recollections may vary”. They were, and are, “shiny, happy people”, far from the angry and aggressive evangelicals on obscure satellite television channels, and Hudson’s portrayal of them as the epitome of civility contrasted with his own coarse language towards them. Still, I’ve first-hand experience of the likes of them: their smiles are suspiciously broad, and their handshakes just that little bit too firm to be genuine.
A late plot twist resulted in audible gasps from the audience, very promptly followed by loud cheering. Hudson leaves the stage repeatedly, sometimes to enter the stalls and continue performing from there. There were invitations for the audience to participate in proceedings during a performance that, at times, takes on the form of a gig (Tom Foskett-Barnes’ sound design making songs ably sung by Hudson as though they were being performed in an arena rather than a theatre) – and I was impressed by what he had persuaded the audience to do. As ever with shows that contain humour and audience interaction, sit in the front row at one’s own risk. Overall, a varied and absorbing experience that captures Hudson’s assertiveness and vulnerability in equal measure.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Willy returns to Soho Theatre with the world premiere of Welcome Home.
A big queer sci-fi epic feat. Robbie Williams’s bum.
Recovering from a bad breakup, Willy moves back to his parents’ house. But waiting there is the thing that’s been controlling him since birth – his childhood church.
It’s time to take on the church and avenge a lifetime of shame.
Join Willy in his kitsch DIY world as he catapults an autobiographical story into a fantastical spectacle. Expect space battles, monster anthems and an out-of-this-world terrain, all revolving around a real world battle of the heart.
Within an impossible revenge story on an unbreakable institution, is a story about resolving anger, the importance of allies and knowing when to let go. Come see if Willy makes it.
Art Direction and photography: Emalea Jones
Make up: Jack Oliver
Production Assistant: Reisha Leonie Richards
WRITTEN & PERFORMED BY WILLY HUDSON
Thu 26 Jan – Sat 11 Feb 2023