John Osborne

John Osborne & Molly Naylor



The Lowry, Salford Quays

There’s a pleasingly ramshackle quality to tonight’s poetry reading. Not the poetry itself; that’s not ramshackle at all. But this is certainly more about the poems than the performance, and it’s all the better for it.

First up is the shambling, self-effacing – and very engaging – John Osborne. He pulls the sleeves of his jumpers over his hands like a recalcitrant teenager, and tells us about the poetry tour the pair have been on. Tonight’s the final night; they’ve driven up from Norwich. Some of the shows have been sell-outs, he says; another had an audience of only six. He doesn’t seem perturbed. We number about fifty, I think, and we’re an appreciative crowd. We laugh at his jokes. Why not? They’re funny.

The poems are funny too. Not comic pieces, exactly; just wryly amusing. There’s one about being served by a waitress who is ’employee of the month’, for example; another about conducting an affair with a colleague. They’re prose poems, really; little anecdotes, condensed. I like them. They make me smile.

There’s a break, and then it’s Molly Naylor’s turn. She’s a more confident performer, with a stronger stage presence, and the same likeability that made the first half so much fun. Her poems are more crafted too; she plays with form, experiments. There’s a trilogy about love (before, during, after… “Well, sort of during…”), a long piece about beach combing. There are personal anecdotes between poems: she comes from Cornwall; she used to travel to school by boat. (Actually, when she starts this tale, she says, “I used to go to school on a boat.” It takes me a while to realise the boat is the transport, not the institution. I am mildly disappointed.)

I enjoy listening to Naylor. I like the way she reads. The excerpt she shares from her play, Whenever I Get Blown Up I Think Of You, is riveting, detailing as it does her experience in┬áLondon on July 7th 2005: she was on a tube train when it was bombed. It’s the minutiae that make this piece so absorbing: the scarf, the Sainsbury’s toilets, the walk home in the aftermath.

And then they’re gone. No bows, no joint moment, no milking of applause. It’s thank you, goodnight, and off we go.

What a lovely way to spend a Saturday.

4 stars

Susan Singfield