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Review: SAND IN THE SANDWICHES, Theatre Royal Haymarket

EdWard Fox stars in the one-man tribute to Great Britain's most acclaimed Poet Laureate John Betjeman. Following a successful UK tour, Sand in the Sandwiches is a verbal tour de force for the actor, who, at the age of 80, delivers a distinguished transposition of the artist.

Directed by Gareth Armstrong, Fox brings to life Hugh Whitemore's script, which is sprinkled generously with Betjeman's poetry. Fox's portrayal of the irreverent poet is largely loving and sometimes impertinent, his full array of quirks and tics meticulously displayed. He holds his own, dominating the space and under Armstrong's fluid and conscientious direction owns the vast stage.

Rotini Dimou's design is evocatively vivid: two translucent panels, three different kind of seating arrangements, and countless dead leaves, combined with an amusing lighting design surround Fox's wit and charm. The visuals have an impact on the crowd but manage to keep the attention on the actor and the story that's been told brilliantly.

Fox masters Whitemore's lines and thoroughly becomes Betjeman. From the cadence of his words to his peculiar stance, he gleams from start to finish looking back at Betjeman's world with an acute and distinct performance. "I started reviewing my past life" he says, and one can't help but notice what a kind and earnest appraisal Sand in the Sandwiches is.

An indirect praise of art, literature, and life, the play shines a light on the flippant poet, using his own words to tell the story of an existence spent between creativity and poetry, animated with humour and sharpness, but not glossing over the underlying tones of Betjeman's sadness and "the unkept promises and broken hearts".

Fox brings a comically loving side to an irreverent personality and frequently deprecating attitude, and his Britishness matches the poet's. A man who couldn't live without his words, and to whom poetry was "arranging things in order", Betjeman's humorous and playful verse has been a colossal contribution to literature, and Whitemore's script doesn't let his audience forget it with his own suggestive wordings.

Culminating with a poignant and touching "What happens next? I wonder" the colour of the play get increasingly somber and subdued towards the end, and while the writer shares his last musings on life and poetry, Fox reaches the climax of his performance with a heartbreaking last scene.

Sand in the Sandwiches runs at Theatre Royal Haymarket until 3 June.

Photo credit: Geraint Lewis

Additional performances:

CAMBRIDGE Arts Theatre

Tuesday 6 - Saturday 10 June

Eves: 7.30pm, Mats: Wed & Sat 2.30pm

Box Office 01223 503333

MALVERN Theatres

Tuesday 13 - Thursday 15 June

Eves: 7.30pm, Mats: Thur 2.30pm

Box Office 01684 892 277

WOKING New Victoria Theatre

Friday 16 - Saturday 17 June

Eves: 7.30pm, Mats: Sat 2.30pm

Box Office 0844 871 7645*

*Calls cost 7p per minute, plus your phone company's access charge.

BRIGHTON Theatre Royal

Tuesday 27 June - Saturday 1 July

Eves: 7.45pm, Mats: Wed & Sat 2.30pm

Box Office 0844 871 7650*

*Calls cost 7p per minute, plus your phone company's access charge.

BATH Theatre Royal

Tuesday 11 July - Saturday 15 July

Eves: Tue & Wed 7.30pm / Thur, Fri & Sat 8pm, Mats: Wed & Sat 2.30pm

Box Office 01225 448815

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