Liz Lochhead’s solo spoken word show at Assembly Rooms opens with songs from Joni Mitchell’s delicately moody album ‘Blue’ on the sound system; appropriate not only for her first poem of the afternoon,
Like Joni Mitchell herself, Lochhead excels at turning intensely personal memories into something universally tangible.
Old Vinyl is one of the longer poems in the set. It’s a nostalgic ramble on the comforting hiss and crackle of a beloved record, interwoven with lyrics from Paul Simon to Bob Dylan to Billie Holiday. A saxophone player gently complements her recitation. This is poetry that’s meant to be heard aloud and the music only enhances the experience. The saxophone is used in some of the remaining poems, often for adding touches of humour like the roaring solo when Lochhead says “let’s get raunchy” or a bit in My Way when she mentions that it’s the only Frank Sinatra song she can’t stand. Her accompanist also makes use of a mouth harp at one point. Much of Lochhead’s nostalgia is for the 60s, when she was a young art student. As she recites poetry over jazz, you feel transported back to a time when beat poetry was the hot new thing.
The set takes her through early loves, lost friends (a memorial poem to her friend is particularly beautiful, with its images of ospreys soaring over a lake), and her delightfully raunchy take on aging. In a bathroom in a Canadian seniors’ café, Lochhead catches a glimpse of the archetypal aging diva. The old broad reapplies her lipstick and fixes Lochhead with a look that says, “It happens to the best of us.” While the performance is mostly aimed at an older audience, there’s truly plenty here for anyone to appreciate. Lochhead writes what she knows, but she’s such a talented wordsmith it hardly matters if you can’t recall the days of Mary Quant and miniskirts. Something’s Old, Something’s New is a nostalgic trip, but if never feels self-indulgent or lugubrious. Lochhead has enough humour, heart, and stage presence to make an audience fall right in rhythm with her words.