Review: Luke Wright at the Norwich Playhouse

Luke Wright hasn’t even begun his set yet, but when he bursts onto the stage – his erratic energy filling the auditorium with anticipation – it’s already clear that this is going to be an evening of intensity, and that we should brace ourselves for what is to come. And with that, he launches into his first poem, the words tumbling out at a ferocious speed, like gunfire from every direction. It’s a political attack on the state of our times, and what better way to do just that than through a seething social commentary, filled with fiery, witty verse critiquing Good Morning Britain. He’s breathless by the end, but the audience even more so – there’s no denying that Wright will say it as it is: that we’re living in a dysfunctional world, and maybe it’s about time we don’t pretend otherwise.

Many of his poems are rooted in political issues, but his passionate delivery is what really makes this set distinct as performance poetry. Impressively, he manages to pull off poems made up exclusively of a single vowel, a feat that he also challenges us to attempt. And although he modestly points out that his accents are limited, his many voices and characters take us on a tour of this Brexit-divided Britain, from gritty northern towns to the country manor houses. Yes, it’s funny, but beneath every laugh is a tinge of deep sadness, a sense that we live in a country where people are unable to understand one another.

But the personal is also political: As we delve further into the set, Wright weaves in personal experiences too, many of which are ongoing or that he is still coming to terms with. In between poems, he contextualises many of his stories, admitting that as a poet, he had often felt a pressure to write about ‘big’ political issues, even if they hadn’t always felt truthful for him to write about. So when a slightly different narrative begins to unfold – a narrative that is directly his own – it’s hard not to feel the power of his words resonate, as he uses lyricism as a way to openly speak about the breakdown of relationships, toxic masculinity and mental health.

Aside from his clear aptitude for the complexities and nuances of language, his craft doesn’t just extend to poetry. Interweaved between sets are a range of personal anecdotes – many of which are akin to stand-up routines– interspersed with a few history lessons to keep us educated. We’re even educated on the role of the poet laureate, and I, much to my bewilderment, realise that I have been fooled into almost believing in a title (Luke Wright: Poet Laureate) that was actually just a self promotional guise. And although he may not be the legitimate Laureate (and he makes a good case behind the skewed history of this role), I think that we can safely appoint him as a poet and performer who will only go from strength to strength, whose poetry is in turns cathartic and euphoric.

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October 2021
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