This visit to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy was a homecoming of sorts, sponsored as it was by The Rialto – the Norfolk-based poetry magazine that was one of the first to recognise her talent thirty years ago.
As well as words, the Playhouse audience were also treated to musical accompaniment by John Sampson and his eclectic selection of wind instruments, played both solo and in concert with Duffy’s readings.
For me though, all I needed were the words. Duffy has a strong authorial voice and sits somewhat uncomfortably with her laureate title, joking about its strictures but not so restrained as to refrain from a dig at deputy prime minister Nick Clegg when reading a poem based on Faust. (Still, one of her ‘official’ works, Rings, was the weakest of those recited.)
What she doesn’t need is gimmicks and, although clearly appreciated by much of the audience, that’s how Sampson’s contributions felt to me, particularly in the final reading of a delicate piece about her mother’s death where his rendition of the sickly sentimental Danny Boy competed and jarred with the poet’s own poignant lyrics.
It also meant we got less of Duffy reading, although even in the few works heard we travelled a gamut of styles and emotions from her humorous collection The World’s Wife to the near-apocalyptic The Bees.
An entertaining evening from one of the country’s best writers.