1 October 2011

Family Values with Wendy Cope

By Rachel Sloane


Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, 30 November 2011 

Looking like a rather stern school teacher, Wendy Cope slipped unobtrusively onto the stage at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds, sat down next to a small table and with barely a glance around, proceeded to read some of her witty, and thought-provoking, rhyming poems.

One of Britain’s most popular poets, she only began writing poetry when she was 27, but now is one of the few British poets who can earn a living from their writing.

We began with the poem  “61 and on a diet….” and continued to learn about Wendy’s life as she read to us, and told us about the context of the poems, all in her slightly dry, humorous style.

We empathised with her unhappiness at boarding school (“ when ‘teasing’ was our word for ‘bullying’”), but had to laugh at “I used too many long words – I soon learnt not too – look at my work!” We met members of her family, including Uncle Bill, the bus driver, and learnt through her poems that she loves motorway service stations, and late night BBC radio.

A favourite with the audience was “My Funeral” which was basically all the embarrassing things that people do at funerals and Wendy doesn’t want at hers – such as people adding embarrassing eulogies to a song or a reading.

She also told us of her collaboration with the Endellion String Quartet for which she wrote a series of poems about The Audience that was set to classical music and performed as a concert. There was The Traditionalist, The Radical, The Widow and The Cougher (and, as she warned, we inevitably coughed at the end of that one).

The poem that raised the biggest laugh of the evening was The Stickleback Song which was dedicated to teachers and written by Wendy when she was a London primary school teacher. A school inspector gave the school a good report but said that “someone should attend to the dead stickleback “ – but  there wasn’t any sticklebacks in any of the classrooms…. a mystery that was never solved.

The evening ended with a question and answer session.

Take the chance to hear Wendy Cope read her poetry if ever you can, but several of the poems mentioned above came from her latest book, Family Values.

(This review also appears onhttp://www.onesuffolk.net/home/previews-and-reviews/reviews)