When Spencer Jones first began making waves at the Fringe in 2015, he was hiding behind a character – The Herbert, a loveable, playful sort of dweeb who didn’t say much but had an uncanny eye for bringing everyday objects to life. As the years have passed, first with his 2017 award nominee The Audition, and more so with this, we’ve come to realise there was never much of a dividing line between creator and creation. He doesn’t even bother with the alter-ego now. He owns his kookiness.
In The Things We Leave Behind, we find ourselves in Jones’ basement, the workshop where he makes his anthropomorphised objects, bonkers tunes and weird art. He probably doesn’t wear a gold suit with a coat hanger in the back round the house, but all the rest of what he does here rings true – keeping the noise down so he doesn’t wake the kids, telling white lies to his wife so he can carry on beavering away with his props.
And beaver away he does, showing off to us with his found puppetry and silly, looping tunes. The pleasing sounds of the phrase ‘do you remember my mum?’ are turned into one particularly memorable one.
The title of the show has double meaning. It refers to the scraps of skip-found wood and broken domestic appliances he’s busy finding new use for, but it’s also a reflection on what we ourselves leave behind when we die. He brings his late father into the story at this point, but not in a cynical, trite ‘dead dad show’ way. He’s genuinely mulling over what remains of us when we go, and pausing to think what he’s leaving his own kids – Sonny and The Womanchild.
At a guess, you’d say he didn’t need to worry. He seems the funnest dad ever, the kind who’d let you bunk off school just so he could hang out and lark about with you. If nothing else, they’ll have a crazy childhood making tunes for their Dad’s Fringe show to remember. Though if that’s the upside, the exasperation of his prop ‘wife’ at finding him making tunes about bums in the basement at 3am is probably also grounded in reality!
While this show is gloriously, life-affirmingly daft, it has the heart and soul that has bubbled under the surface of all Jones’ work. He complains of being skint – his gig on Upstart Crow didn’t happen this year, so he jokes about having to drive to Doncaster to gig for 6 people. But he has a forthcoming BBC series loosely based on his prop comedy, The Mind of Herbert Clunkerdunk coming up, as well as a full series of the Mr Winner sitcom he piloted in 2017. One hopes they make him a household name. He’s far too good a comic to be on his uppers.