Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide

Shropshire Events and Whats On Guide

Theatre Review : Roger McGough and Little Machine

Chris Eldon Lee reviews Roger McGough and Little Machine at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn.

The worrying thing about seeing Roger McGough is that I’m 63 now and we ‘did’ him at school. A wry grin spread across his face when I mentioned it. He seemed fully aware that he had inspired (nay, corrupted) an entire generation of 60s school kids – and he’s still doing so now, at the age of 78.

As the poet read on stage “If you have aches and pains and people say to you ‘What   do you expect at your age’……..hit them”.

He is a highly sprung bundle of energy, lightly stalking around the stage like an antelope at a watering hole. He delivers his eclectic mix of ‘whoopee’ words and ‘weasel’ words like a gunslinger on automatic.

His is the poetry of pop and protest…raging against terrorism and bankers and being intensely personal on tiny matters – as if he’d met us all before. There are list poems about what’s so depressingly wrong with the world – with a tag line about how the bad news keep his mind off things. And there are delicately perceptive poems about the individual human condition.

When he was a child, his aunt, we hear, would talk about the angels. If there was thunder and lightning, the angels were moving their furniture about. If it was snowing, that was the angels having a pillow fight. But then when Auntie sadly died, the angels quietly left. It’s a beautiful idea that speaks to grown-ups and children alike. Indeed, he read plenty of his wonderfully imaginative children’s poems to an audience of beaming adults. It felt we were all being allowed to stay up late, especially to hear them.

Some poems were merely jokes in disguise….a quick set up and a clever punch line. He rather likes the new environmentally-friendly Nissan ‘Leaf’ electric car. But he cornered too fast …and turned over a new Leaf.

In a neat little trilogy, he imagines the lives of the husbands of the famous. There’s Mr Nightingale who complains his wife is too busy shining her lamp elsewhere when he’s feeling poorly; there’s a neat stake joke from Mr. Of Arc, and we learn from Mr Blyton that his wife is up to no good with Noddy.

He was always my favourite-ist poet…and half a century later he still is.

He shared the stage with ‘Little Machine’ – a three-piece band who specialise in setting classic poetry to contemporary music – and it was an inspired paring.  Performing on their own at first, they take the words of the giants of poetry, project them onto a huge screen, revere them and have fun with the music. Soft rock Shelley, anyone? For Shakespeare, they produce Yorick ’s skull which turns out to be full of beads when shaken. Shaken Shakespeare anyone? Byron gets the real rock and roll treatment, but then he probably deserves it, and Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’ is decidedly Prog Rock. I just wished all these towering literary figures were in the stalls to witness it all.

But with Roger back on stage they produced delicate underscores to his laments and jokey tune to his jolly japes; all which gave the evening a dippy extra dimension. Roger McGough was a pop star once, with John Gorman and Paul McCartney’s brother in ‘The Scaffold’ and – audaciously – the evening ended with a full house of poetry aficionados all singing ‘Lily The Pink’ at the top of their voices.

All poetry readings should end like that.