Carol Ann Duffy and John Sampson

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy teams up with incredibly talented musician John Sampson to bring a unique blend of reading with live music. Knowing this, walking into The Stand at 12:20pm has mixed emotions. On the one hand it’s exciting to see a nearly packed out audience on the first day of the Fringe. On the other, it’s really sad to see an audience where I am one of only three young people because this show highlights how accessible and relevant Duffy’s work is today.

Even those who left Duffy’s poems behind at secondary school will find something to enjoy.

As she wryly opens a poem about Faust and his wife, by stating it’s older than I am, she links it beautifully to Trump’s presidency. Her poems about World War I still paint a perfect scene, especially when elegantly and sparingly accompanied by John Sampson. Duffy’s poems are a perfect blend of straightforward and beautifully written one moment you’re focussed on the plot, the next you’re taken aback by a stunning turn of phrase.For many, Duffy will always remain confined to English classes at secondary school, and those people definitely miss out because Duffy live is capturing, interesting and completely different to re-reading a photocopy in a laminate-floored classroom. Seeing her live is like peering behind the scenes and getting a backstage pass to her mind. We discover on hearing the news that some plantations in China have hired people to pollinate plants, due to declining bee populations, she coined the poem, The Human Bee. It’s a rare joy to see an artist explain their work without killing the turn or punchline.

John Sampson’s music is equally impressive: he switches from pipe to pipe without hesitation. The balance of music to poetry is also to be commended — they always feel in conversation with one another instead of one trying to dominate.

My one disappointment is that the poems don’t seem to interact — it would be even better if we could see why Duffy chooses to start with poems about World War I and if those poems had some kind of link to the ones that follow. While the audience was never whiplashed from one mood to another, there were some moments where the decision to follow one segment with another was confusing or unclear. At one point Sampson dons a wig and does his best Mozart impression which, while still being impressive and enjoyable, was a confusing and misplaced section.

On leaving, I reflected on how lucky we are. At the Fringe we get a Poet Laureate doing an intimate, fresh and exciting show. The range of themes, from poignant to light-hearted ensure that even those who left Duffy’s poems behind at secondary school will find something to enjoy.

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The Blurb

The Poet Laureate and her virtuoso musical collaborator return with an inspiring tribute to the past and some fresh perspectives on the present. Opening with a timely memorial to the fallen of the First World War that counterpoints the poetry of the soldier with Carol Ann’s response, two voices separated by a hundred years of history, it moves through contemporary themes with depth, wit and an engaging lightness of touch. The interplay between Carol Ann’s words and the exuberance of John’s musical contributions, playing a fascinating assortment of instruments, weaves a thought-provoking, entertaining afternoon.