Larkin With Women

BY BEN BROWN
29 March 2006 — 29 April 2006

"An absorbing look at a contradictory personality, a loner who sought love eagerly enough but recoiled from any of its messier implications and responsibilities, a man whose selfishness was leavened by a dry, deadpan wit that gives some idea as to why his lovers were so fond of him. Brown draws on Larkin’s published prose and the best jokes are his. He also acknowledges that Larkin’s beautifully melancholy poetry was bound up with a sexual strangeness and social prejudice. Alan Strachan, who directed the 1999 premiere of Brown’s play at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, directs this welcome revival. Back, too, is Oliver Ford Davies in a terrific performance as Larkin. Probably less prickly than the original, Ford Davies is still a rumpled, unsentimental presence: sardonic, guardedly tender and amusingly baffled to find that he has become a bespectacled “Don Juan in Hull”. Equally strong are Carolyn Backhouse as the sharp-tongued Monica, Larkin’s equal when it came to a love of literature and drink, and Jacqueline King as the no- nonsense Betty. And Amanda Royle is wonderfully touching as Maeve, a devout Roman Catholic often hurt by their relationship, who inspired some of Larkin’s most touching love poems. Brown offers an expert distillation of Larkin’s life and work. Strachan turns it into poignant drama." The Times

"Oliver Ford Davies gives an achingly real portrayal of Larkin in this little gem of a production. He thoroughly embodies the paradox of the self-absorbed grump who got up every day thinking about death, yet had a lively wit and an unaccountably successful way with women...It's huge credit to both Brown and director Alan Strachan that an analysis of an ultimately selfish arrangement never feels one-dimensional. Carolyn Backhouse as Monica and Jacqueline King as Betty are women who give as good as they get. And Amanda Royle wins the heart with her quiet, fluttery Maeve." Time Out