REVIEW: SAND IN THE SANDWICHES (Theatre Royal Haymarket) ★★★★

“I made hay while the sun shone.
My work sold.
Now, if the harvest is over
And the world cold,
Give me the bonus of laughter
As I lose hold.”

Sir John Betjeman is one of Britain’s best loved poets, with his humorous and poignant verse the very heart of the good old days. In Hugh Whitemore‘s play Sand in the Sandwiches, we join Betjeman on a trip down memory lane, as he reminisces about his life, reciting several of his poems along the way.

From A Subaltern’s Love Song where he proclaims his love for Miss J.Hunter Dunn with rich, adjective-filled words while mocking the upper middle classes to Seaside Golf, we gain insight into the mind of one of our country’s greats. Particularly when his own relationships were far from simple – although married to his wife Penelope for 50 years, he also had a long-term affair with Lady Elizabeth Cavendish.

The informal, friendly direction from Gareth Armstrong sees Fox almost having a conversation with a friend and partly reminiscing alone, surprised almost that he has turned fifty and wondering what it is he has achieved.

Yet Sand in the Sandwiches is so much more than his memoirs. Edward Fox has the twinkling humour of Betjeman himself, smiling to himself and the audience when he recites, lighting up the stage. His poetry remains amusing, with constant titters from the audience and Whitmore’s script is perfectly in keeping with the tone.

Although some of my personal favourites are absent, this does not detract from the evening, which is a true celebration of Sir John Betjeman, his life and works.

It’s mesmerising, nostalgic and delightful.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement Hayes