THE personable poet in the red trainers turned 75 last year and his thoughts have turned to age. “Not for me a young man’s death” he recites, contradicting the early poem Let Me Die a Youngman’s Death written in Liverpool’s Picton Library shortly after the death of his father.
Presented back-to-back in this one-off gig at the Playhouse, where his latest Molière adaptation opens next week, they demonstrate the perfect balance of humour and poignancy that McGough’s work embodies.
He muses on muses and the fear they will fade away, leaving him with nothing to write about, and imagines the slow decline into dementia: “When the snow falls on words, their sense becomes frozen. Language hallucinates.”
But as affecting as parts of his performance may be, it is far from morose.
With the laughter flowing easily, it resembles a stand-up gig as much as a poetry recital.
Even the most whimsical piece comes with a punchline – DJ John Peel ordering poached eggs at the Adelphi while watching limbering-up wrestlers to be told “Sorry John, chef can’t be a___d!”.
There’s a section to mark the Olympics (McGough’s quip “Remember them? Bet you’ve forgotten,” earning a loud guffaw) that related the antics of his sporting family – unfortunate cricketer Uncle Pat in vinyl undies; Auntie Dora, whose delicacy when diving is in indirect proportion to her plentiful weight; and Aunt Ermentrude who swims the Channel while in a bath onboard a ferry.
There’s his take on poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s collection The World’s Wife, in which poor Mr Nightingale is tucked up with a temperature while his wife’s off swaning about the Crimea, and the incomparable Dylan the Eavesdrop, with Thomas stealing words from the mouths of punters in his local pub.
McGough’s poetry is moving, funny and deliciously silly on the page, but nothing beats hearing them delivered in person.