HE may have been a librarian for 30 years, but you can't read Philip Larkin like a book.

Academics aside, who knew – until Ben Brown wrote Larkin With Women – that plenty went on beneath the covers, not only in Larkin's post-war poetry books but in the bedroom too as the Hermit of Hull turned out to be the Don Juan of Hull?

Premiered at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough in 2000, when it won the TMA Best New Play Award, Brown's play is now revived by Glaisdale company Esk Valley Theatre at a time when Larkin is in the spotlight once more in Hull's year as UK City of Culture.

The no-larks Larkin of black-and-white myth is gloomy, obsessed with death, darkly humorous in his observations of human foibles and failings. All that is here, the reproachful Larkin all too aware of it himself, but so is Larkin, the collector of porn; Larkin, the acidly witty jazz reviewer; Larkin, the drinker and smoker. And Larkin, the wearer of dapper amber socks, although whether that is poetic licence by director Mark Stratton, who knows, but James Booth's 2014 biography, Life, Art And Love, does recall Larkin once dyed three pairs of white socks mauve.

Booth also addressed whether Larkin was a racist, a misogynist, a xenophobe, but of Life, Art and Love, we learn most about love. After all, Larkin famously wrote: "What will survive of us is love". What survived of Larkin's love life were the letters he fastidiously filed away, not for public viewing.

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Isla Carter, as Monica, and Jonathan Pembroke, as Larkin, in Larkin With Women. Picture: Tony Bartholomew

Nevertheless, Brown did his research, interviewing the three women whose love Larkin juggled over his 30 years in Hull: Monica Jones, a free-spirited English lecturer at Leicester University, who was the first and brightest candle to the end; Maeve Brennan, a young library assistant torn between Larkin and her adherence to her Roman Catholic faith; and Betty Mackereth, his unstinting, phlegmatic secretary.

Graham Kirk's open-plan set design blends Larkin's relaxed home study with his somewhat austere university office, with curtains closing or blinds shutting swiftly to signify a change of scene. There is a lightness of touch to both the direction and staging, matched by the playing by Isla Carter, Hayley Doherty and Georgina Sutton as Monica, Maeve and Betty respectively, while Jonathan Pembroke's Larkin has the arched eyebrow about him, relishing showing him to be more than a grimly witty fatalist.

More a lark than dark, Brown's play is humorous but insightful too, and the women give as good as they get, as they each learn of Larkin's wayward ways that defied the dour front and decide how they will deal with his preference for "solitude with the occasional diversion".

Brown cleverly contrasts the regular routine of the library with the tangled web of Larkin's home life, and he also applies a very English post-war wit, reminiscent of Tony Hancock, to Larkin's fixation with loss and the passing of time, making Larkin With Women ultimately touching as well as amusing. What's more, Larkin poetry extracts not only link scenes, they also help to explain his unexpected magnetism to women.

Larkin With Women, Esk Valley Theatre, Robinson Institute, Glaisdale, near Whitby, until September 2. Box office: 01947 897587 or eskvalleytheatre.co.uk