Luke Wright – King’s Place, London

Baby-faced performance poet Luke Wright glows with brilliant energy. He may have reached 40 and is no longer ID’d buying alcohol, but the world continues to throw up fresh issues for his combative wit. There’s the fear that he’ll wake up looking like WH Auden; worse is the hot breath of Generation Z on his neck. ‘Fuckin’ hate the young, ‘he snarls, imagining them snatching his generation’s fury in their lament: ‘Why did not you die something about this? ‘ But Wright is so much more than a good hater.

He is tender, scabrous, as witty as Oscar Wilde and as dazzling a wordsmith. He’s a mesmerizing performer with a full-length-play’s worth of characters from Brando’s Godfather to posh-vowelled Candida Lycett-Green, daughter of John Betjeman, introducing him at a literary festival. He uses a rich range of rhythms, his subtly modulated pace a model of professionalism. His comic vision has roots in pain, but his raw experiences of grief are both deeply felt and fully processed, suffering spun into gold.

Wright, who regularly opened for the Libertines and now shares a platform with John Cooper Clarke may seem an unlikely fan of Betjeman, but the former Poet Laureate’s influence is evident in the sheer inventiveness of Wright’s poetic forms and love of rhythm. And there’s a deeper link to Betjeman in Wright’s love of England. His lyrical poem ‘And I Saw England’ alone merits him a place up there with the great Romantic poets. Swimming in the river Waveney, its water ‘pickle-green’ under ‘the smudge of butter sun’, he encounters an angry swan, whose ‘ancient orange eyes / flashed like fire on Boer farms, like mortars / dropped on Baghdad compounds.’ This is so much more than light-weight observational verse. This is poetry that explores, experiments and enchants, makes you laugh, makes you think.

Wright’s inventiveness is unstoppable. He writes a whole poem only using words whose sole vowel is ‘u’ to tell a hiliarious story of a bawdily Chaucerian sexual encounter. In another, he tells the story of his own marriage and divorce as if it’s a film run backwards, ending with the poignant image of his bride backing down the aisle, the rings and vows un-exchanged.

A poem as touching as’ Reading for Pleasure ‘layers the simple pleasure of his son Sam finally graduating from Biff and Chip with the daftly fabulous idea of ​​voicing Sam as an East End villain, growling’ Leave the light on, Dad, I want to read! ‘

His imagination feasts on surreal possibilities. A friend on jury service admits to fancying the attractively authoritative judge is the basis of ‘Judge Crush’. ‘I’m the patron saint of codgers’ he insists in ‘Gerontophiles.’ His funny links between poems feel spontaneous as he tells us the Australian accent of his Essex-born brother can be understood if you realize an Austrialian accent is just an Essex one ‘left out in the sun’. He talks to the audience with warmth and intimacy, thanking us for coming back after the interval, admitting to his fear we might have slipped away.

Luke Wright is a fabulous performer. If you’ve never seen him, kill for a ticket. If you’re already a fan, you will have.

Reviewed 10 March 2022, then on tour

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