What I Learned From Johnny Bevan
Written and Performed by Luke Wright
Live at the Mitchell Library 10/3/16
Aye Write 2016
A small audience is a strange thing. On one level I feel a sense of disappointment, even anger, that more people haven’t taken the time to support the artist. But on another there is a real sense of intimacy in the room, a lack of barrier between performer and observer that works best with a fully engaging and immersive piece. What I Learned From Johnny Bevan is exactly that.
I’ve been a fan of Luke Wright’s rapid fire poetry for years, through his regular tour support of John Cooper Clarke, three recorded albums and first printed collection Mondeo Man. I was familiar with his impassioned delivery, political satire and skilful use of form and rhyme, but that didn’t prepare me for the power of this performance.
What I Learned From Johnny Bevan tells the story of Nick, a jaded journalist reporting on the launch of a new urban festival, the brilliantly named URBANIA. Travelling to the future festival site, Nick recognises the deprived location as the former home of his university friend Johnny Bevan, sparking an extended memory of eighteen years earlier, the youthful optimism that brought them together in the year of Tony Blair’s rise to power, and the disillusionment of what was to follow.
One of the most impressive aspects of the show is its characterisation. As Nick, the narrative voice is cynical, guilt ridden, but yearning; while as Johnny the verse transitions from brash idealism to seething frustration and resentment, delivered in a range of rhythms that seamlessly alter within the story. It was only when reading the printed version afterward, (which I highly recommend as a companion to the live show), that the variety of verse styles was apparent, which is further testament to the piece’s construction and to the naturalism of Wright’s performance.
What I Learned From Johnny Bevan is a fantastic work of poetic theatre. Using language both witty and accessible, Wright gets to the heart of issues of class, political betrayal and human connection, filtered through an emotionally raw story of two boys and the men they become. Watching it live was an unforgettable experience, so if a chance to catch it comes your way, you definitely should. It was one of the real highlights of the 2016 Aye Write festival and is something more people should see.
Review by Calum Maclean