Sand In The Sandwiches

★★★★

Review By Franco Milazzo

Sir John Betjeman: now, there was a poet. In Hugh Whitemore’s Sand In The Sandwiches, we get a soup-to-nuts understanding of the Poet Laureate who was more than the simple versifier that title suggests.

As portrayed by the 80-year-old Edward Fox, Betjeman was a complicated man who grew more complex over time. His early sexual dalliances with men and women are touched upon, as is a privileged schooling where he was tutored by TS Eliot and a pre-Narnia CS Lewis. Middle age gave him new passions in architecture, TV and a mistress he nicknamed “Feebles”. His fame saw him knighted before the Queen appointed him to his most famous post which he held from 1972 until his death in 1984.

Sand in the Sandwiches by Hugh Whitemore, directed by Gareth Armstrong. With Edward Fox as John Betjeman CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Biography aside, the play is packed with Betjeman’s work and fans will be swaying along to odes both long and short usually prefaced by the story of how the poem came to be. For example the infamous erotic couplet penned in collaboration by WH Auden and Louis McNeice that goes “I sometimes think that I should like / To be the saddle of a bike”. Sadly, there’s no space for arguably that most infamous of his works Slough which begins “Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough!/It isn’t fit for humans now”; times may have changed since Betjeman wrote it but Slough hasn’t.

An exceptional actor

The rather charming Fox is still an exceptional actor almost 60 years after making his theatrical debut. While his performance is largely static and involves him sitting on various stage furniture, his voice and face give highly emotive expression to tales of love, loss and fear. There are laughs aplenty but the darkness peaks through especially at the end as Fox perfectly depicts a man ravaged by who lived his final days more in hope than faith.

Sand in the Sandwiches by Hugh Whitemore, directed by Gareth Armstrong. With Edward Fox as John Betjeman CREDIT Geraint Lewis

Director Gareth Armstrong keeps the pace flowing admirably, although sometimes a little too fast for Fox, and the choice to use an almost-invisible earpiece is understandable given the length of this play and the actor’s age.

In Summary

Sand In The Sandwiches is a beautiful tribute streaked with insights aplenty into the boy from North London, who went on to encapsulate mid-twentieth century Britain so evocatively.

Book tickets via CarnsTheatrePassion HERE!

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