Larkin With Women
Richmond Shakespeare Society
Mary Wallace Theatre - 20 September 2018
Phillip Larkin, an Enigma
Larkin With Women
by Ben Brown
Richmond Shakespeare Society at Mary Wallace Theatre, Twickenham until 22nd September
Review by Celia Bard
Although Ben Brown’s play Larkin with Women does not take us much closer to an understanding of Phillip Larkin’s enigmatic and often egoistical behaviour, the playwright does succeed in pulling together the many threads of Larkin’s puzzling personality, weaving them together to present a compelling dramatic overview of this fascinating poet.
Larkin is a poet frequently at odds with himself in regard to ethnic and religious beliefs, a recluse, writing often about unhappiness, and certainly his attitude to women is complex. Sustained throughout most of his life by heavy drinking and smoking, numerous liaisons with women, a passion for poetry and writing and trad jazz, which he listened to all his life, writing about it for The Telegraph newspaper.
Admittedly in the beginning I found the episodic presentation of the play irritating, but on realising that these many intervals marked a shift in either time, setting and interactions between different characters, was more able to accept these frequent changes of scene. The accompanying music, very much in keeping with Larkin’s lifelong passion for jazz during these changes, helped enormously.
The set is naturalistic, split in two main areas, each representing a different place. Larkin’s office space attached to the University library changes very little, but the other stage area is in turn his flat, Monica’s cottage, his house, a hospital room. The time period is that of some thirty years, and this is conveyed by the subtle change of props and positioning of furniture and of costume.
Blessed with a highly talented cast, the director, Michelle Hood exploits their talents to the full, orchestrating patterns of sound, movement, and action like the composing of a piece of music but allowing her performers freedom to explore and harmonise their own parts with intelligence and sensitivity.
Daniel Wain as Phillip Larkin lives and breathes his character, successfully conveying a wide range of emotions, sexuality, and sensibilities. The characterisations of the female roles are carefully delineated. Fiona Smith plays the high-minded, intellectual academic tutor with confidence and verve. Cath Messum is wonderful as Betty Mackereth supportive of him in his library work, but does not make unrealistic demands on their relationship. Lynne Harrison successfully plays the guilt-ridden, tortured character of Maeve Brennan. All the actors give full-rounded presentations of the characters they portray – a wonderful ensemble of acting performances.
Read Celia Bard’s full review at www.markaspen.wordpress.com/2018/09/18/larkin
Photography by Sarah J Carter
Larkin With Women by Ben Brown