Larkin homage a treat

Isobel Cuddigan becomes a theatre goer as Philip Larkin based play Pretending to be me, firmly captures her attention.

I won’t lie; I am by no means an avid theatre goer. The last time I graced the auditorium of a theatre was for the mandatory secondary school trip to see the play that was inflicted on us for the Leaving Cert (back in the day), which quite literally put me to sleep! So I was sceptical as I approached the next step in my quest to broaden my cultural experiences. I was going to brave the theatre once more. Whether or not it would be a success I had no idea, but as the saying goes “nothing ventured, nothing gained”!

Along came the chance to go the Everyman Palace and savour in the delights of Pretending to be me. I did not know anything about the play before I went so I of course did the fool proof research. I Googled it! How we survived before the wonders of the internet I find even harder to comprehend as the days go by. As I read through the description of the play a nagging voice at the back of my head whispered that maybe I was choosing the wrong play to go to, given that it was for the monumental occasion of my reintroduction to the world of theatre.

What I read was not encouraging; one actor and the poems of Philip Larkin. Would this play also send me asleep also? But as I read on I became more encouraged. Not only is Larkin widely regarded as one of the great English poets of the latter half of the twentieth century but there was hope that Oscar nominee Tom Courtenay might be able to wow me into submission and keep my attention for the duration of the play. I truly hoped so.

The dread re-emerged again however as I waited in the lobby of the Everyman. The age gap between me and my unenthusiastic companion, and the rest of the theatre goers was at least forty years.  There was a well balanced mixture of English teachers and old age pensioners who outnumbered us greatly and their quizzical looks we attracted did not go unnoticed either.

The stage had minimal props. A hard wood chair, a table, a pot of tea and jug of milk were all that graced the stage. After the interval however the pot of tea and jug of milk were replaced by a bottle of whiskey and a glass tumbler!  It was clear that it was all about Courtenay’s delivery of Larkin’s most memorable poetry, letters and articles to produce a complete, compelling portrayal of a controversial poet. It was a splendid performance from Courtenay, justifying why he has achieved many accolades in the past. Such accolades include two Oscar nominations, nominations for five BAFTA Awards (winning two), and a Golden Globe nomination.

The way the works of Larkin were compiled together I found produced a most entertaining and thought provoking play. However, without the many well placed jokes, the seriousness of some of the issues dealt with would have been too overpowering for me. The issues had universal relevance leaving me laughing at the same jokes as the white haired seventy-something year old woman sitting beside me.

One thing that I did regret was not knowing the works of Philip Larkin better before I went to see the play. It definitely would have enhanced my experience and enjoyment of the play significantly. After seeing it though, I will be trawling through the library looking for books of poetry by him! The sound of American Jazz in the background at times was expertly decided on and added an extra dimension to the play. The constant jibes at fellow poet Ted Hughes provided great comic relief as any possible point in the play for one then there would be some derogatory remark about him.

My trip to the Everyman was undoubtedly a success. This success I put down to a mixture of two things, the powerful performance by Courtney and the engaging material of the play. I most definitely will be turning into an avid theatre goer if all the plays I attend are as enjoyable as Pretending to be me was.

I shall leave you with a quote from Philip Larkin himself “Life has a practice of living you, if you don’t live it.”

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