Sunday, 27 June 2010

Larkin Revisited

Larkin Revisited
Middleton Hall, University of Hull

Clare Brennan
The Observer
Sunday 27 June 2010

This December it will be 25 years since Philip Larkin died. In the city of Hull, where he spent the last 30 years of his life, 25 weeks of commemorations have just begun. Toads and shows splatter the programme (, which is odd, since the lauded poet and jazz-loving librarian seems to have held neither in high regard.

The list of things that Larkin seemed not to like – if compiled from the text of Tom Courtenay's one-man show, the revised version of Pretending to Be Me – would be long. It would include children, family life and fellow poet Ted Hughes (described as looking like "a Christmas present from Easter Island"), as well as "the toad work" and theatre (he joyfully realises that you do not have to leave the bar when the interval ends).

But, as Courtenay's ghost-raising performance unfolds, so too does a profoundly Chekhovian vision of tragicomic, wry, hopeful hopelessness. Larkin's words may probe the core of our shared lonelinesses and death dreads, yet, leaving the auditorium, those who knew him agree: "That's exactly how he was – a very funny man." Bring on those giant sculpted toads!

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