Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Of course, it seems that a significant number of the audience are already familiar with Liz Lochhead’s poetry and other works, and they respond immediately to her very gentle and friendly air. Given some of the harsher edges of her writing, it’s startling to be confronted with someone so gently engaging with the audience.
The main draw here is that of Lochhead’s personality. There’s a great deal of warmth in the room – presumably a great deal of the audience are already familiar with her forty years of writing and/or simply claim her as one their own, a Scot, something which perhaps unavoidably permeates her work. One particular poem, early in the show but late in her career, is a witty lament discussing how much the act of learning is also enforced forgetting.
A good amount of the warmth in the room, however, comes from Lochhead herself. Her writing – and her onstage persona – indicates a great deal of mischievous wit and twinkling cheekiness, and it’s very engaging to be witness to it in the flesh. She’s far too energetic to sit down with a pot of tea and scones for the hour – she remains standing for the duration – but you really get the idea that if you had the chance to share a few drinks with the woman, you could easily sink a few hours into the endeavor.
As well as a reading from what is arguably her most famous and best play, (argued by none other than herself) Mary Queen Of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, Lochhead reads poems from major points in her career. There’s a great poem from the seventies, Sharon, which first begins to explore Lochhead’s interest with what might be termed the unreliable narrator. It’s around this time that she flicks a photograph of her young self at us, a cute, trim, sixties gorgeous slip of a girl, lamenting that the Liz then had no idea how beautiful she was, calling to mind Anne Bancoft’s dislike of herself when filming The Graduate. ‘Youth is wasted on the young,’ Lochhead smiles, in what’s about the only line that is not hers.
There are glimpses of her own mortality – Lochhead is clearly a great fan of Joni Mitchell – her songs are playing when we arrive and leave, and Scotland’s Makar uses the example of Mitchell to talk about her concerns of talent simply running out as one gets older. With charisma, steel wit and verve such as this, that won’t be for a while yet. And we’re lucky to have her.