Thursday, May 29, 2014

Philip Larkin Society takes the train to celebrate 50th anniversary of The Whitsun Weddings

at Hull station: Philip Larkin statue by sculptor Martin Jennings

The Philip Larkin Society has organised two special  events to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of the poet's collection The Whitsun Weddings! (the title poem is read by Larkin himself in this recording at the Poetry Archive).

In the first event, on Friday June 6th, dubbed "the performance train", the Hull-based theatre company Ensemble 52 will bring the poem to life on rail platforms and on a First Hull Trains journey from Hull to London King’s Cross. 'The Whitsun Weddings' has been described as ‘one of the best poems of our time’ (in the Times Literary Supplement) and this unique performance piece will cover 200 miles, eight towns and cities, and 50 years in three hours.

Bill Nighy

At several stations - Hull, Brough, Doncaster, Retford and Grantham - brides and grooms will board the train, waved off by family and friends dressed in the ‘parodies of fashion’ from 1964. Once on board each couple will share stories of life and love, marriages and heartbreak from the last 50 years. The stories will last the period of time between stations and be interspersed with other poems from the collection relayed over the tannoy. The journey will also feature a soundtrack of Larkin’s beloved jazz music. (In addition to being a poet and Hull University librarian, Larkin was jazz critic for the Telegraph newspaper.

Audiences on board two dedicated carriages for the unique journey will also be able to hear exclusive one-off recordings of Larkin poems by British Hollywood star Bill Nighy.

Theatre producer Ensemble 52 has worked with the Larkin Society and Larkin 25 (which created the incredibly successful Toads installation throughout Hull) to create and oversee the project, and also with theatre-makers and companies along the route. People’s stories and memories from five of the rail destinations from the last 50 years will be collected, collated and distilled to produce a powerful look at life’s highs and lows, joys and woes.

Andrew Pearson

E52's Andrew Pearson, who is directing this very mobile production and keeping it on the rails, said: ‘This will be a unique event and is a really rare opportunity to experience theatre on board a train and at the various locations en route. We're delighted that Bill Nighy has got involved. This will be the only opportunity to hear Bill reading these poems as they will not be commercially available. ‘This will be one of those events that will forever stay in the minds of those that join us on board. It will be a very special journey and is a chance to celebrate the anniversary of a truly great collection and a poet whose life and work is intertwined with Hull, the UK City of Culture.”

The Whitsun Weddings – on board First Hull Trains Hull to London Kings Cross service. June 6th, 2014. From 12.30pm from Hull Interchange. Tickets £65, £60 and £55 (includes travel to London King’s Cross) in advance from and – price depends on station of departure.

For further information and updates visit the website or follow the company on twitter @ensemble52

The second event marking the 50th anniversary of "The Whitsun Weddings', is the unveiling of a Larkin slate ellipse on King’s Cross Station in London, at 12.30 p.m. on Saturday June 7th (Whit Saturday). The unveiling will be carried out by Baroness Virginia Bottomley, High Sheriff of Hull, with other dignitaries present.

The ellipse will be mounted on a wall next to the First Class Lounge on the main station concourse. Carved by the sculptor Martin Jennings, it will display the final lines of the poem and will complete the sequence of installations which began in 2010 with Martin’s famous statue of Larkin and the associated poetry roundels (2011) and the Larkin bench seat (2012) on Hull Paragon Interchange. These all link neatly with the statue and roundels of Larkin’s friend and fellow poet, John Betjeman, also by Martin Jennings, sited on the next door station, St. Pancras.

Philip Larkin poetry roundel by Martin Jennings at Hull station
into which is carved the  first line of "The Whitsun Weddings":
That Whitsun, I was late getting away,

Susannah Tarbush, London

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