Actor Martin Wimbush proved himself a master of the one man show in his performance last Sunday evening of Meeting of Minds. He held his audience at the Creative Centre theatre totally enthralled as he put action and emotion to the words of our English poets, John Betjeman and Philip Larkin. Against a backcloth of biographical essays written by playwright Alan Bennett and narrated here with superb timing and humour, the essence of each man was portrayed through his poetry, first Betjeman and then Larkin.
“The inspiration for the show”, Martin Wimbush told me, “came from reading Alan Bennett’s book, Six Poets from Hardy to Larkin. As Bennett says: ‘Both of them were, of course, very English and wrote straightforward poetry that didn’t need much exposition.’ The more I read the poems that Bennett was describing, the more I felt I wanted to perform them, not just read them – they leapt off the page. I felt they were almost miniature plays, contained stories – each poem, seemed to me, to be a dramatic soliloquy – and so the idea came that I could perform these poems and, after each poem, read out, from a lectern at the side of the stage, Alan Bennett’s witty and profound comments.
“I suppose the connecting themes between the poets are family, childhood and the railways and the sense of loss – and both poets are very sensitive to the human condition and, of course, as an actor, that’s what you pick up on and what makes them so moving. I knew that deep emotion was in Larkin’s poems, but was quite surprised to find so much of it in Betjeman, whom most people regard as a light poet – as Bennett says, ‘He may be pretending it’s light verse when it isn’t, but he knows exactly what he’s about and he always hits home’ – and I felt the same way about my show.
“I wanted to dig deep behind these poems and find the real feeling beneath them. Doing a one-man show is a bit like being a tightrope walker – the audience goes on this dramatic journey with you and when you get to the end, the feeling of exhilaration and delight is a shared experience – hearing an audience, completely silent, listening to every word, is one of the great joys of being an actor.”
The audience certainly travelled with him all the way. Martin Wimbush has an extraordinary ability to bring these great poems to life and with Alan Bennett’s witty and profound comments this was a truly entertaining show.
Photo: Rye Camera Club