These are dark days to live in, so when a little relief from the gloom appears we need to seize the moment. Luke Wright can be depended on to brighten up a day.

After his triumphant tour with ‘What I Learned From Johnny Bevan’ Luke has now embarked on a new tour – The Toll – which sees him return to a simpler style of staging and delivery with a stunning new set of poems. Yes, poems. The world of spoken poetry might conjure up an image of a dusty old aesthete mumbling verses from his latest slim volume to an audience of half a dozen. Think again. With Luke Wright you get the best of an Essex man, a gobby raconteur with a machine gun delivery of word perfect wonder. As a County they are probably too tight to appoint an Essex Poet Laureate, but when they come to their senses this lad is a shoe-in.

There are some hints of trouble and some sadness in his recent life, which highlights the humanity and sensitivity of his vision. He talks of his Dad with warmth and affection, although as a lifelong Kelvedon to London train commuter father must be a very different character to son. Like all of us who are parents he sees his father with new clarity after becoming a parent himself. Much of this show touches on families and how they work with each other.

Luke is an engaging showman and a confident performer – a confidence which is not threatening or off-putting but very engaging. He is also very funny indeed. His acute observation of the frailties and eccentricities of everyday life build truly hilarious moments in a very upbeat show which had me laughing out loud along with everyone else in a packed audience.

The Toll refers to the fulfilled ambitions of an Essex girl, Tracy, to work in the tollbooth at the Dartford crossing before technology replaced humans with a CCTV camera. Her initial ambition may have been fulfilled, but the poem draws out the sadness and circularity of life. Luke wrote the poem before deciding that it was really about his Mum.

Luke while telling a tale of Betjeman and his relationship with the former national Laureate tells how we need light and shade, how we need sadness to be able to appreciate happiness and the beauty of his show is the striking balance between light and dark, between humour and grief, the pathos of real life. He also packs in some great little anecdotes.

Luke is overtly political – never gonna be a problem with the Norwich Arts Centre crowd – and has crafted a brilliant verse of well deserved bile about IDS (Iain Duncan Smith) which features a single vowel throughout. A tough challenge to set to himself, but the resulting polemic is brilliant and witty, sending barbs directly to a deserving target. Clearly on a roll he uses the same tactic again later in the show with an hilarious account of Burt, in the pub. I will not spoil the drama, but you may never eat hummus again.

Luke Wright has a scholar’s knowledge of the work of other fine English poets and styles of poetry, and has a rewarding go at retelling a Georgian-era tawdry news ballad about the greed and demise of an over ambitious oyster loving hatter’s assistant named Dando. He captures the style well, but greatly improves on the rushed out doggerel that this early tabloid news distributor would employ to give us today a classic performance poem.

A high point of energy and confident delivery comes with his tribute to the good people of somewhere near Clacton who wanted to convince the world that they had spotted a lion – yes a real lion – from their seaside caravan. ‘The Fuckin Lion’. This is dangerous stuff – you could risk a serious injury from laughing too much as he piles on the story line by line. With a cast of characters this is a mini drama in itself. At the end Luke picked out a rhyme that had caught me – rhyming ‘Benny’ with ‘MGMy’ with a charming diversion into the cultural significance of the former Crossroads character, particularly to the Army in the Falklands. The squaddies’ chosen epithet for the locals was banned by zealous officers, so the squaddies replaced it with ‘Stills’ – as in, still Bennys! There is a part two to the ‘Fuckin Lion’ which rounds off the story and the show perfectly.

On just the second date of a long tour we enjoyed a sustained and polished performance from a man at the top of his game. The audio visuals that were an important part of ‘Johnny Bevan’ are not needed for this show, which focuses on the man and his words without distraction. Keep your eyes and ears open – Luke Wright has a lot more to say!

Jemima Foxtrot – still from ‘The Bog Eyed Man’

Luke introduced as his support act the hugely talented young poet and singer Jemima Foxtrot, who reminds some of us what a complicated business life can be when you are in your twenties, living in London and trying to find a partner or lover that doesn’t leave you thinking about the next one. A natural poet she picks her words carefully to build rich and complex concepts, while interspersing the spoken word with snippets of engaging singing. From this promising support appearance many will look forward to her appearance in Norwich at the top of the bill.

These two performers turned a cold wet and miserable Tuesday night into an evening to remember and gave us hope that a generation of people younger than those who run the world now are going to do a much better job.

©Julian Swainson

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