7:36 AM 26th November 2023
Poem Of The Week: Hostess Trolley By Keith Hutson
Often employed in Alan Ayckbourn plays,
this one, as soon as it was wheeled on stage,
loaded with nibbles, drinkie-poos, began
to concertina. Which it would, when some
fool hadn’t locked the catch. Geoffrey, who
no amount of pancake could mould into
a suave young architect, couldn’t let go
of it throughout the second act. Where he
went, it went, and the bending made his tight
suit trousers look half-mast. Then his back seized.
During the interval, we tried some holds
and tugs that made it worse. He’s still not right,
we’ve heard: no one from our lot ever sees
him, now he’s cast so well for playing bowls.
I make no apology for including an old favourite as this week’s Poem of the Week. Keith Hutson’s poetry is an extension of the life he once lived. As an experienced comedy writer and old hand in the theatre industry, he has a natural sympathy with comics and entertainers of a certain historical vintage, their predecessors in Music Hall and on the early twentieth century stage.
Hutson’s impulse, beyond the simple emotion of affinity, is empathic. Denizens of the footlights, especially in these earlier times, often endured in extreme hardship, on hand-to-mouth wages and subject to the vagaries of employment. Their lives were often scarred by tragedy; some even built parodic acts around the circumstances of their own misfortune.
Whilst he often gently satirizes the indigent, the hapless and the feckless, it is rare to find a Hutson poem that is not also profoundly sympathetic to the plight of the triers and failers.
In ‘Hostess Trolley’, the recalcitrant subject is inanimate – the conveyor of drinks and nibbles from one room to another that was omnipresent in domestic landscapes of the seventies, and a fixture in the suburban comedies of Ayckbourn. Hutson’s poem, a more or less formal sonnet, finds an apt vehicle, in both senses, for a kind of slapstick comedy: the poor bugger for whom the concertinaing food dispenser is out of control, like a supermarket trolley careering down the aisles with locked wheels, becomes the unintentional butt of the joke – a fall guy to the main vehicular turn.
Wherever ‘Geoffrey’ may now reside in the theatrical universe, he will forever be associated with that single act, the one where he and it became inseparable like unsolicited lovers, the one that put his back out in perpetuity.
And it would be a hard heart that didn’t rejoice at Hutson’s hilarious final line.
‘Hostess Trolley’ is taken from Troupers
and is published by smith|doorstop (2018). More information here