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(Luke Wright's) Cynical Ballads - Seven Caustic Tales from Broken Britain

Luke Wright
The Lounge, Leicester Square Theatre
(2011)

Performance poetry: this is what is promised as an hour's entertainment at The Lounge in the Leicester Square Theatre until the 29th January. Entertainment can be a rather freely used word in performance poetry, a traditionally oral medium and not necessarily always performative.

However, once poetry is performed, is it not theatre of a sorts? Then again, in argumentative terms, what isn't theatre nowadays? I went to see Luke Wright half expecting to see either a mumbled collection of ramblings on Arts Council cuts or poorly executed free style rap rhyming words like 'maybe' and 'baby' by a self conscious cigarette rolling beat generation wannabe.

Luke Wright punches his way on stage with a visceral, literal, incisively smart, highly moral poem about 'binge drinking Britain'. His passion, preparation and talent shine through immediately with powerful rhythmic beats that he periodically highlights, making them stick in your mind long after the performance has finished. What becomes patently obvious through the show is that the joy, the authority, the stimulation that comes from poetry performed by the poet is the true ownership the poet has over the words they have moulded exactly to their meaning. Far more ownership than most actors can claim over a role. These are ballads that Luke Wright seems to have wrenched out of his soul to spit them out in front of us for this one performance and he looks filled with zeal to imprint them on our hearts.

Each of his seven poems are indeed cynical, revealing so much of the underdog, the underbelly of British society, the class system in free fall, the government in free fall, they are sharply, honestly observed, beautifully crafted. The craft of poetry is clearly a source of interest to Wright, who is, one suspects, a closet nerd. His presentations are peppered with definitions of iambic variants and allusions to Pope and Yeats.

However, the aspect of this show that is of most interest (to this audience member at least) is that no matter how craftily Luke Wright tries disguise the fact (through the use of the 'c' word, through the disillusioned nature of his musings, through his darkly comic asides in between poems), it is clear that he is a very nice man, whose anger stems from disappointment at the unkindness and unhappiness of those around him rather than the frailty of human nature, for which he seems to have a grudging respect.

Wright's hope and faith in the innate goodness of men sneak through his work. He is almost embarrassed by them, but they are what make his show vitally interesting for an hour in the way that a "Charlie Brooker copy" complaining about the state of the nation could never be. It is in occasional lines about 'honour is like faith' and a happy ending for a chip shop couple that are profoundly beautiful and are the kernels of his poetry that make the bleak news he parades, the frustration he exudes, sound like the unpleasant truths rather than unjustified attacks.

The haunting illustrations in his presentation, by his long term collaborator Sam Ratcliffe, add substantial ambiance and the ending musical ballad is particularly affecting. His political leanings mean that right wing voters may feel uncomfortable and slightly victimised by his slant on class hierarchies but in the main he deals his home truths out to all sides fairly evenly.

This show is a surprising pleasure, for all its dark and malignant content, his performance (and it is a performance, not a reading) is engaging, the subjects believable, his introductions informative and the tone, in an upside down sort of way, oddly uplifting.

Luke Wright will be appearing intermittently at The Leicester Square Theatre until Saturday 29 January 2011

Reviewer: Lizzie Singh