Roger McGough

Liverpudlian Beat Poet on tour
Most years, usually at the Oxford Playhouse

October 28, 2009
That Awkward Age
Oxford Playhouse, Fri 23rd October 2009
Roger McGough seemed on good form at the Playhouse on Friday, if a bit older, wiser and more serious than I last saw him. Though that might be just the suit.

Contrary to the programme no mention was made of launderettes or the foreign legion. But we did get a mention of Macca's trousers - part of a series of new poems addressed to inanimate objects. These also included bedtime stories and (veering into Hegley territory) contact lenses.

McGough comes accross as genially irreverent, not least in his The World's Husband series, in response to Carol Ann Duffy's The World's Wife. He obviously leads a life bursting with rhymes, half rhymes and other poets, where words are their shared landscape. But it's not all serious - he related how shortly after Duffy's appointment as Poet Laureate and caused her heart to skip several beats by announcing that the Queen had just died.

Switching mood is something McGough is very good at, and the readings veered between thoughtful, mischeivous and breathtaking. He used the excellent tactic of reading multiple poems with too little break for clapping in between. Even so we clapped as much as possible, and once or twice were too stunned to do even that - creating that elusive magic pause that performers prize more highly than applause.

The auditorium bristled with longstanding McGough fans who were given a brief opportunity to ask questions in the middle. These covered largely banal and mainstream areas until the last, where an indignant lady enlivened things by accusing McGough of being "responsible for Lily The Pink". He didn't seem upset by this accolade, in fact the word smug springs to mind!

So all in all a largesse of eloquent and seemingly effortless poetry. By contrast the intros and explanations were circular, slightly repetitive and endearingly untidy. So there's still hope for the rest of us!
Roger McGough is really worth seeing. Even if you're not familiar with the work of this zany yet accessible Liverpudlian Beat Poet, you'll have a great evening's entertainment and come away a convert. Tall, skinny, greyish and quiet, he reads his own work extremely well, convincing whether he's being touching, hilarious, clever or quirky, or, as often, all of the above. His initially diffident stage persona gradually picks up charisma, until by the end of the evening he has the audience eating out of his hand.

And the poems are great. In the last couple of recitals he's done a few of the older, more famous things, and then focussed on later work, also reading from his - mostly prose - autobiography, "Said and Done". He's always written about sex and death. The most recent poems tend to be less about death than about mortality, and less about sex than about love. And a lot are about political or environmental issues. Some of his best latest stuff are wryly intro- and retro-spective pieces about his own life. Whatever he's writing about, he does it with a Meccano approach to words that is still refreshing and exciting after a 50-odd year career.
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