Sunday, 22 November 2009

Roger McGough, That Awkward Age Tour - Liverpool Playhouse

That Awkward Age Tour
Writer/Performer: Roger McGough
Reviwers T& L Andrewes

Faced with writing a review of a poet reading his own work one might wonder whether to focus on performing capacity or literary merit. With actors, the furthering of the literary value depends on the quality of the performance. With a poet maybe we are looking for something different. W.B.Yeats for example uttered his words in a most tedious monotone, while T.S.Elliot was elegantly expressive. Actors reading sometimes err on the side of the histrionic (the last thing you want) , although some, such as Tim Piggot-Smith or Timothy West hit absolutely the right balance,I suppose what we look for is a sort of authenticity of expression: poetry is in the mind but also in the voice.

Two current exemplars of this would be Ian McMillan and John Hegley, but before these were famously the Liverpool Poets, represented tonight by Roger McGough, introducing to his home town his latest publication.

In him we find the best qualities of this kind of presentation: conversational tone, unaffected manner and real clarity, receiving a very warm and enthusiastic response from his own people. As a poet he could be considered essentially a humourist - rather a Hillaire Belloc- with the added ingredient of unexpected and surreal plays on words. However, whatever comparisons one might make, he is one of the great originals who with his fellows set the form which was seen tonight.

This evening McGough drew mainly on his new publication, That Awkward Age - this being any point between birth and death!He began, cleverly, with poems on Health and Safety and mobile phones.We were then treated to poems which addressed the inanimate, ranging from Meccano through bed-time stories, contact lenses, planes and even Macca's trousers.His sometimes surreal and idiosyncratic sideways look at the ordinary everyday encourages the rest of us to view the mundane with new eyes and to find the humour around us. His quirky wit runs throughout, even when in more serious mood, 'I Am Sleeping' for instance.

We revelled in an example of McGough's sense of fun in an anecdote about Carol Ann Duffy. At a party two days after her appointment, McGough announced that The Queen had died - pure mischief. A further nod in the direction of Duffy is his selection of 'husband 'poems including Mr Nightingale, Mr Of Arc and Mr Mae West, a refernce to Duffy's The World's Wife' about the wives of famous men.

There is a contemplative note in 'A Fine Romance', which reflects on a possible future in which Alzheimer's transforms the loved into strangers.One's inevitable demise also appears in 'Payback Time' The humour is back, this is one for my kids to read!

In a way this evening was a reviwers nightmare - how could one jot down even one word during the programme, and risk missing any delicious piece of subtlety and wit. The Liverpool audience have held McGough in esteem since Scaffold days and demonstrated it in their response tonight. This was a memorable evening and if he was back tomorrow, we'd all be there.

Photo:Peter Everard Smith
Reviewed Friday 20th Nov at The Liverpool Playhouse for more info on Roger click here
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