An evening exploring all aspects of time – through comedy, poetry and words – is coming to Reading next month. Rob Auton timechecks with PHIL CREIGHTON
A POET, comedian and wordsmith will be performing his latest show in Reading’s South Street, and it’s about time.
Yes, really. It’s all about time and it’s also about Time. Confused? Spare a thought for Rob Auton, who had planned to play at South Street Arts Centre last March. Covid had other plans.
The virus prevented him from performing the rescheduled date, and the one after that. Finally, he is able to present his timely show, Time.
It’s a focus on all things to do with time, and follows on from similarly themed shows on subjects such as sleep, hair, water and faces. Why does Rob explore single issues?
“I just love testing myself,” he says. “I sit down with a pen and a pad and just start writing and see what happens.
“When I’m walking around or things like that, I have ideas. When I pick these things – say if I am doing a show about the colour yellow, then I’ve almost got like a yellow alarm going off in my head every time I see something like a double yellow line, or hear a song or something. It just makes me engage with that thing.”
And the process continues – he admits he is quite disciplined about it, writing late at night, even when he doesn’t want to.
“Looking back at what I’ve written and going, ‘Ah yes, I’m pleased I sat down.’ That is where the effort goes. You only get out what you put in, don’t you?”
If you’ve seen Rob on TV, including The Russell Howard Hour, or seen a previous show at South Street, you’ll know that his performances are precise, as well as funny.
“Pretty much every word in the show is one I want to be there,” he says, adding that one of the reasons is that he combines comedy with poetry.
“When words come together to create a specific feeling in someone, it’s just magic,” he says. “The feelings or ideas I have, if I can get them down as quickly as possible without overthinking too much, I don’t try and sit down and try to have ideas normally. I’m lucky – sometimes they come to me and I just try to catch them and not get in the way of them too much.
“It feels like something that’s natural to me. I want to follow my instinct.”
He feels that this is what happens when artists don’t overthink, instead sharing whatever they think is worth sharing, whether it be through words, drama or painting.
“If you’ve got a feeling for a colour, you go, ‘Right, I’m going to paint this big thing red’.”
This in turn can help his performance and turn a show into something that audiences will remember for years to come.
“When the night turns into something that I won’t be able to recreate again, because of other people in the room who have brought something to me, it snowballs into something magical.
“It isn’t just me. Something will happen, the air is punctured by someone laughing in a weird place and everyone starts laughing – why were they laughing? Everyone’s different elements of enthusiasm are on board.
“I’d love it if I could recreate the perfect gig every night,” he says, quickly adding, “but if every performance was it would probably become boring. It’s worth having those tough gigs where it doesn’t click, you just try again the next time.”
Rob likens it to being with your mates having a perfect dinner party and then trying to recreate it at the next performance.
“I think that’s what excites me; everything is so fluid,” he says. “We’re made up of blood and guts and bones and eyes and brains. There is no way that we can harness it because we’re wild. Life is wild, isn’t it?
“Just trying to tame it for an hour-and-a-half or whatever it is, I don’t want to. I want it to be a live experience for everyone.”
Coming out of lockdown, Rob thinks this connection is more important than ever, saying we’ve been living in a moment but people are now ready for a new moment, a new challenge, getting ready for that new normal.
“It’s a challenge I’m definitely up for.”
Lockdown has seen many of us take up new challenges, and for some that has been growing facial hair. Rob, who is blessed with a hirsute abundance on both the head and face, went the opposite way: a grade two all over.
“When all my gigs were cancelled, I thought OK, I’m going to shave it off. I had a bit of fun with a beard for a bit, giving myself a goatee, but it’s grown back now,” he says, “although my hair is thinning out a bit on top. My hairs have taken lockdown very seriously and started social distancing.”
Time was originally performed for a 2019 audience, winning great acclaim at the Edinburgh Festival, and Rob had performed the first half of the tour before lockdown. He doesn’t mind the pause that coronavirus has forced on him.
“I’ve looked forward to (getting back on tour) because I had such a good time in Edinburgh and the tour,” he says. “I think (I wouldn’t) if it was a show that was good one day and not the next, you know, inconsistent, but it’s not. I’ve tried to make the show as strong as possible.
“The material is there, I’ve just got to make sure that I’m as good as I was before the pandemic, and that will come through practising.”
He’s looking forward to being back at South Street – he’s been regularly popping up there over the years, including a 2014 gig with local legend AF Harrold. “I do love South Street,” he admits. “It’s one of the best setup arts centres in the country, because the dressing room is right behind the stage.
“I was there in 2018 for my last tour, I loved it. It was such a good gig.”
So why should people come and see if Rob’s rehearsals have come good?
“There might be an opportunity for flapjack,” he says smiling. “I don’t know if that’s a spoiler.
“But I want to share with people because I think the experience that we create in the room together is a positive thing. And I think people need positivity at the moment.”
Yeah, it’s definitely time for Time.
Rob Auton brings his comedy/theatre/spoken word show about time, The Time Show, on his (timely but rescheduled) biggest tour to date, including a performance at South Street Arts Centre, Reading on Saturday, October 2. For full dates and info, visit robauton.co.uk
I Strongly Believe in Incredible Things by Rob Auton (Mudlark, £14.99) is out on Thursday, September 16 and available to pre-order now.