JOHN Betjeman, who dropped the second “n” at the end of his name to avoid being ridiculed at school as a German, was probably England’s first “national treasure.”
His poems, rhyming without triteness, have immortalised railway stations, village names, afternoon tea and of course Miss Joan Hunter Dunn. And, as we learn at Bath this week, town planning in its brutalist horror.
Hugh Whitemore’s witty and informative solo evocation of the essence of Betjeman, Sand in the Sandwiches, is the second play in the Bath Theatre Royal summer season, brilliantly performed by Edward Fox and directed by Gareth Armstrong. On until Saturday 15th July, it takes its audience on an evocative and sometimes unexpected whistle-stop tour through the life of the Poet Laureate, from his childhood through an adolescence advised by his straight-talking father, romances, marriage and the Parkinson’s that dogged his later years.
Simply staged, the production allows Edward Fox to move between seats as he accomplishes this amazing feat of memory without the aid of the autocue on which many now rely.
Fox has, and Betjeman had, very distinctive voices, and they are very different, as they are physically, the poet latterly a large, jolly and rather shambling man, and Fox the epitome of trim dapperness. But all that is soon forgotten as the play begins, aptly this week, with the paeon to tennis champion Miss Joan.
The evening is a sheer delight and well worth the trip to Bath.