Venue: Poetry Arena
Reviewer: Fergus Morgan
Latitude’s Poetry tent is a second home for Luke Wright. After success with his shows Stay-At-Home Dandy and What I Learned From Johnny Bevan, which played London’s Soho Theatre earlier this year, he returns to his local festival to compere and to present a batch of new work in his own, hour-long show.
Wright is a uniquely undefinable poet: strikingly flamboyant, with ponytail and eyeliner, he seems to mask a warm, cuddly personality beneath an energizing flare of boldness and brashness. His work is alternately playful and passionate, but he is at his best when he skilfully draws pathos and profundity from the seemingly mundane.
One Trick Bishop, a brisk and initially light-hearted portrait of an abseiling clergyman, becomes an arresting contemplation of the Church’s decline. The Toll is a sorrowful story about a girl whose bedroom looks out on the Dartford Crossing, but it elegantly shifts into a philosophical assertion that true freedom can only come with toil.
He is funny, too. IDS – an savage attack on Ian Duncan-Smith – and Burt Up Pub – a comically sordid, staccato tale of sex and violence – are both univocalist poems, in which he entertainingly manages to only use one vowel throughout. Moonstrut For My Missus is a charmingly gentle ode to his wife, in which he slyly – but lovingly – points out the imbalances in their marriage: ‘She wanted a dog / I thought that sounded a slog / To compromise, we got a dog’, is a brilliantly wrong-footing line.
It’s a mistake to set some of his work to music; although Lora Stimson’s vocals are perfectly adequate, the backing tracks dilute, rather than enhance, the power of Wright’s performance. He is most engaging when dancing to his own trippy, popping rhythms, as he does in The Ballad Of Edward Dando, a moralistic tale of a quiet class warrior in the 1820s.
Social and political decay has also been a prevalent theme of Wright’s work – What I Learned From Johnny Bevan was an extended piece about the decline of the socialist left under New Labour – and it rears its head regularly in this new work too. Houses That Used To Be Boozers provides perhaps the show’s most arresting image – dirty, grubby pubs turned into chic, soulless homes – and its downbeat lament of this rotten transition from public to private is both timely and touching.