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Review: Books, Theatre, Albums, Movies and Gigs

40-Love, Everyman

Roger McGough and Brian Patten

Liverpool Everyman Theatre
Friday, October 19. 2007

Mirth and pathos played an equal part when poets Roger McGough and Brian Pattern returned home to perform at Liverpool’s Everyman theatre.

This was a two-night sell-out show to celebrate 40 years since the publication of the revolutionary Mersey Sound by Penguin Modern Poets.

Image: Roger McGough & Brian Patten.

Roger McGough & Brian Patten. Courtesy of Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse


Everyman Liverpool Playhouse official website40-love is a 10-venue Southbank on Tour production, taking its name from the poem of the same name by the late Adrian Henri, the third part of this famous triumvirate.

Since the publication of this iconic collection in 1967 one million copies have been sold, making it the country’s best-selling anthology of verse. As one critic said, these three had   “wrestled poetry out of the hands of academe and taken it into pubs, clubs and the lives of everyday people."

So the Everyman was a fitting venue for this celebration, the apron stage a cosy cocoon for these two revered wordsmiths, that even those in the back rows felt enfolded by their wit and warmth. They captured the audience amidst a minimalist set of Doric columns- a hark back to the beginnings of poesy  - though Roger joked it had been invented in Liverpool!    And on stage there were three chairs, one to remember their now departed friend and two stark microphones set in a pool of orange red and yellow light flooding the stage.

But these two huge talents were all the audience saw with their skill at oral imagery, word-play, bathos and the unexpected twist. The reading was a performance as each, in turn, ‘acted’ out poems that spoke of their childhood,  reminiscences of  past decades, life we could all identify with, of  those they had loved, those they had lost, and the quirky truths of existence.

Included were old favourites like ‘Let me die a Young Man’s Death from McGough and Hair Today No Her tomorrow from Patten, to more recent scratchings.  They have the knack of seeing what we all know but cannot always articulate. McGough in a dark leather jacket and skinny jeans with his scouse lilt, measured and articulated lines, and Patten in a dark suit, the jacket of which seemed too large for him, wove words and sounds and even gobbledygook into home truths that hit the mark, and we understood what they both meant. 

For these two are not poets of the deep, the inaccessible, who write poems that need unraveling and careful dissection. Generally their poems are short, from one to just a few stanzas, where there is a range of metre and rhyme to keep the audience transfixed and engaged. These two working-class heroes reminded us of their humble beginnings and their meagre aspirations all those years ago They drew us into their world of 60s Liverpool, of Sefton Park, Wavertree, Canning Street, where Patten remembered writing his poems  ‘in an attic 44 years ago’, and in particular, Little Johnnies Confession to  Roger’s childhood in Litherland, and writing poetry in Picton Library. They shared many specific memories, Roger’s auntie Marge, a ‘renegade toddler in chief’ to the poignant death of Patten’s mother and his memories of her helping him sail paper boats on the nearby pond. All of this and more was fed into their work bringing much uproarious laughter, and many ‘ah’s’ when bathotic endings revealed the poignant truth a poem.
This was a homecoming both obviously revelled in. Before the show Roger, when asked what it was like coming back to Liverpool, said ‘Good, it always is’. And in the question and answer session later he spoke of the ‘buzz’ of the audience that he had not noticed the previous evening. Both now live down south, Roger in London and Brian in Devon (‘like Sefton Park but bigger) but both still write. Said Roger: “I write every day. I sit down at that blank piece of paper, and I write. It’s what I do.” And Patten spoke of poems taking on a life of their own, like How Long is a Man’s Life, which is now used in memorial services, often with the words adapted. He felt it had now ‘escaped its author’ and that was fine with him

Both have won prizes for their work, been translated into many languages, and performed all over the world. But for the Everyman audience it was as if they had never left, that they were still a part of us. And through their work, they still are.

Jeanette Smith


Everyman Liverpool Playhouse official website



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“Writing gets me away for a while' from this world and into one where I, alone, can make or
break the rules as I see fit.” - Chris High 2003.
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