The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler

Now fully in Brighton Festival mode, last night I went to the Theatre Royal for the first night (and indeed the English premiere) of The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, which continues until Saturday at the same venue. The show is a collaboration between Vanishing Point and the National Theatre of Scotland and continues at the Theatre Royal until Sunday (17th May).

If you don’t know who Ivor Cutler was, he was a Scottish poet and songwriter who gained a cult following through his many appearances on BBC Radio programmes, notably with John Peel. I was introduced to him by an undergraduate friend of mine, Richard Allen, himself a Scot, who loved Ivor Cutler’s poetry and had many cassette tapes of performances by the poet in which he either spoke the poems or sang them to a musical accompaniment, often a harmonium. I loved listening to Ivor Cutler’s voice on these recordings, which added an extra dimension of lugubriousness to the whimsical and at times downright bizarrely comic verses. Many of his poems are about the various bizarre ways in which people try (and usually fail) to communicate with each other. Some of these are joyously silly but they also, like the very best jokes,  convey quite profound things about the limitations of language. Here, for example, is Ivor Cutler’s inimitable hymn to the joy of Morse Code:

Little Black Buzzer is one of the pieces included in The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler, but the show is far more than a collection of the poet’s work. It’s also an exploration and celebration of the life of one of the great eccentrics, from his impoverished childhood, through his period of critical and popular success, his long relationship with another poet, Phyllis King , and his old age in which he suffered from dementia, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease. Music and poetry, life and death, joy and sadness, comedy and tragedy are all woven together in a fitting tribute to a unique individual who lived an extraordinary life.

I don’t need to describe the production in detail because there’s a video trailer that gives a very accurate idea:

My verdict on The Beautiful Cosmos of Ivor Cutler is that it’s the best thing I’ve seen in a theatre for decades. If you’re in Brighton then get yourself to the Theatre Royal and see this show. You won’t regret it.

P.S. The Beautiful Cosmos of the title comes from this poem, which I have posted before:

You are the centre of your little world
and I am of mine.
No one again we meet for tea
we’re two of a kind.

This is our universe…
cups of tea.
We have a beautiful cosmos,
you and me.
We have a beautiful cosmos.

What do we talk of whenever we meet:
nothing at all.
You sit with a sandwich,
I look at a roll.
Sometimes I open my mouth,
then shut it.

We have a beautiful cosmos,
you and me.
We have a beautiful cosmos.

You are the centre of your little world
and I am of mine.
No one again we meet for tea
we’re two of a kind.

This is our universe…
cups of tea.
We have a beautiful cosmos,
you and me.
We have a beautiful cosmos.

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