In a recent episode of New Tricks the geriatric detectives were investigating a dastardly murder in a university poetry circle. The running joke was that ever since Shakespeare’s time, poetry has been an aphrodisiac.
On Wednesday last an astonishing 850 people crammed into the Great Hall at Bristol University to listen to a reading by the Poet Laureate, the excellent Carol Ann Duffy. Possibly they had seen the programme and came hoping to improve their libido. Or maybe they attended simply because they like poetry!
We were there as VIP guests because more often that not these days Carol Ann is accompanied by musician John Sampson , who many of you will remember as a stalwart of Natural Theatre’s scurrilous classical music spoofs throughout the eighties and nineties. Who can forget his in-your-face William Tell Overture or indeed his solo for kitchen sink?
Carol Ann announced at the start of the reading that the Queen gave her John. But really, the Naturals bequeathed him, since many of the virtuoso numbers he plays in the course of the evening, on an amazing array of wind instruments, were developed or adapted for our shows. Of course, he didn’t play the sink on this salubrious occasion, but counting rehearsals, cabarets and endless European tours, I reckon I have heard him play his sonata for two flutes (two at once you understand) over two thousand times. And it still makes me laugh.
By contrast, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when the poet read a piece dedicated to the victims of the Hillsborough disaster with John quietly playing You’ll Never Walk Alone in the background. I’m not sure if poetry can be an aphrodisiac, but it certainly can be deeply moving.
Later, at the post show VIP dinner, I found myself holding forth to an audience of academics and the odd quantum physicist on the difficulty of sourcing size 12 stiletto shoes for pantomime dames (just one of my annual tasks, darlings) It was a bizarre clash of cultures. But as we took our leave, someone said thank you, you have enriched our lives this evening. Me, mind, not the poet laureate!