Luke Wright is a performer who sums up his country better than most today. He is a conflation of contradictions, the Essex Aesthete who displays the demeanour of a foppish toff while blatting out language that a Billericay bin man would be at home with.

While his gunfire-quick delivery can leave you breathless there is no missing the fact that Luke is a well-read scholar and master of poetic structures. His linking anecdotal contexts to the poems are full of historical vignettes, social commentary and acute observation of the triumphs and tragedies of all our lives.

He has been staging his verse for twenty years now, and this tour celebrates that fact while including his musings on a Brexit-riven Britain. Contrary to the assumptions of some under-researched pundits Luke is not in fact (yet) our Poet Laureate, that curious appointment that comes with an expectation of Royal sycophancy on demand. He used the tour title once before, in 2006, and is not one to waste a useful bit of past self promotion already proven successful.

He comes on stage tall and elegant with a distinctive wave of hair over one side of his face contrasting with his cherry-red pull-on boots. With the briefest of introduction he launches straight into the delivery of his first poem and you realise that you have to listen with full concentration to pick up the complexity of language, nuance and rhythm in his work. His delivery is energetic and impressive. I would struggle to remember two lines of doggerel faced with an audience and no notes, but he belts out tongue twistingly complicated verse with barely a pause for breath. He modestly claims to manage only a few accents, but in fact with his voice alone we are on a grand tour of Great Britain, from leafy Sussex idyllic village to gritty Northern town, from the council house to the country house.

Luke Wright celebrates the pretentious and the intellectual, he demands that we are proud of art and culture not apologetic for liking stuff that may not be mainstream, while ironically demonstrating a capacity to fill venues that puts him at the centre of his craft. He understands the importance of contrasting personal work that reflects on difficult times in his recent private life with laugh-out-loud adventures both contemporary and historic such as his raucous broadsheet of Mr Dando the oyster thief. He gets us to look again at the craft of the Poets Laureate, poking gentle fun at that most ambiguously named Laureate Andrew Motion, while also respecting their achievements. His observations about the episodic interaction with his children will be uncomfortably achingly familiar to any parent who has struggled with the aftermath of relationship breakdown.

The second half of the evening performance gives Luke a chance to revisit some of his most popular works, even if, as he disarmingly points out, they are popular with him whether or not they are with audiences. In this friendly Norwich audience in the Playhouse he of course needs not to worry about his popularity, his reception is enthusiastic and the applause hearty. He likes a challenge – two of the poems tonight are created with the exclusive use of a single vowel. Most of us would struggle with a single line under such constraint, but he manages to tell a complete and lurid tale with some vivid image creation. Ask anyone in the audience about “Burt’s hummus” if you want to know more. Or maybe don’t.

While there is pathos and sadness in some of his work the overall effect of an hour or two of Luke Wright is euphoric, his work is inspiring and uplifting even when he turns a mirror on the madness and division of Brexit Britain. He speaks what we think, but much more eloquently than we might do and delivers with passion and skilled theatrical timing. Luke is emblematic of Britain today so you can expect Lions – well at least one, the fabled Essex Lion. We are fortunate that Luke lives in this area, so we perhaps get more chances than some to get to one of his shows. Get those tickets now!

© Julian Swainson 2019


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