Flashdance

Performance Poet Luke Wright is Coming to Nottingham Lakeside Arts

29 November 16 words: Tommy Farmyard

Theatre maker and performance poet Luke Wright smashed the stage at Nottingham Poetry Festival last year. Now, he’s back to perform, at Djanogly Theatre at Nottingham Lakeside Arts, with What I Learned From Johnny Bevan. We put a few questions to the man himself ahead of the show…

How did you become a writer?
I used to dictate stories to my poor mother before I could even read. I wrote ghost stories when I was twelve, and when I turned fourteen, I got into music like Nirvana, Blur, Pulp, and Oasis. I started to write my own – terrible – lyrics to songs that didn’t exist. Later, I taught myself to play songs and sung words in my flat, ugly voice to simple chord structures. Then I saw Martin Newell and John Cooper Clarke and realised I could be the front man of a band without the need for a band, or any music at all. 

Were you first a writer, or a performer, or did the two go hand-in-hand? 
I guess a writer first, but I always had performance in mind as I was songwriter. My poetry is meant to be heard, not necessarily performed, but it sounds good said aloud. It’s crying out to be spoken.

Tell us what you've been up to since you were in last in Notts for your awesome performance at last year’s Poetry Festival…
I’ve been performing What I Learned From Johnny Bevan. That’s about it. It’s been a full-on year of gigs – about seventy so far. This is right at the end of the tour. I’ve also been putting the finishing touches to my second collection – The Toll – out in February from Penned in the Margins. It’s a fairly dark affair in places, charting the rise of the popular right, the end of my marriage, and the other sad realities of my thirties. That’s not to say it’s not without some scabrous humour and wordplay. I’ll be touring poems from The Toll all next year. I’ve just had all the print back from the printers, it’s exciting.

What inspired your play What I Learned From Johnny Bevan?
The story didn’t come from a single flash of inspiration, but from a layering of ideas. I was rereading Brideshead Revisited – as I do most years when the ditches are “creamy with meadowsweet!” – when it struck me that Sebastian’s plight is indeed tragic, but is perhaps eased by his trust fund. Most of us have somebody from our youth who life has left behind; few of us are the youngest sons of earls.

Around the same time, I read George Walden’s excellent book on dandyism and Beau Brummell, Who’s a Dandy? Walden asserts that although dandyism for Brummell meant opulence – he had four tailors work on each of his gloves and washed his boots in champagne – the modern dandy is more likely to achieve his style by clever, often ironic approbation of the mass produced. Indeed, I grew up in the nineties, when Jarvis was king and working-class iconography sold records.

This middle-class obsession with the authenticity of the working classes was something I experienced during my adolescence in leafy north Essex. As I made friends with people from different backgrounds, I was keenly aware of my relatively privileged upbringing. At university, like my protagonist, Nick, I was bewitched by a clever and more worldly-wise ranting poet from London’s East End.

That’s pretty much where the autobiographical elements of What I Learned from Johnny Bevan end. But this is the story I have wanted to tell for years.

The play has been brilliantly received and won lots national awards, what can we expect from Wednesday's show?
It’s a good story, first and foremost; a tale of youth and friendship. People tell me it feels shorter than it is. That’s the best thing as far as I am concerned. Hopefully you won’t be looking at your watches! And then after JB we’ll do some poems. In fact, you’ll get a little sneak preview of the stuff I’ll be touring next year for The Toll.

As an outspoken critic of some aspects of the political landscape in the UK, how do you currently feel this year’s UK political happenings, in five words or less…
Shit just got real.

Who are some current playwrights and poets you're a fan of and think should get more attention? What do you think are the main obstacles they face to getting wider recognition?
I think audiences could take more risks. I remember seeing Scroobius Pip pack out the Latitude poetry arena in 2007 and when he finished, most of the audience left. And they missed out on Byron Vincent –one of the most exciting spoken word performers of the last ten years. Pip stayed. He knew, but the audience missed out because they wouldn’t take a risk on someone they had never heard of.

I like Jemima Foxtrot, Molly Naylor, John Osborne, Rosy Carrick, Caroline Bird, Tim Turnbull, Martin Figura, James Grady – all top poets. Theatre-wise, I was blown away by Barrel Organ Theatre last year at Edinburgh – clever, cynical, cool, young people.

Luke Wright performs What I Learned from Johnny Bevan at Djanogly Theatre, Nottingham Lakeside Arts, Wednesday 30 November, 7.30pm, £6/£8/£10. Get tickets here.

Luke Wright website

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