A spellbinding performance by Luke Wright of his 2015 novel-esque poem takes us on a journey from the optimism of youth to the disillusionment of middle age, via sharp satire, dark humour and punchy, pulsating rhymes.

This is the story of Nick, 18 years old and off to uni in the early ’90s, studying law because it’s what his father wants him to do, but desperate to find some real meaning in life. One evening he overhears a piece of performance poetry lacerating the Tories and is changed forever. He falls under the spell of the spiky, witty, charismatic Johnny Bevan, poet and class warrior, who gives Nick the education he’d never have got at law school. At the centre of a little band of friends who idolise him, Johnny opens their eyes to the inequities of society and the possibility of making a difference.

The future looks bright. Tony Blair sweeps to Number 10. Nick is going to be a novelist. Johnny is going to change the world. But things don’t go according to plan. The Iraq War sounds the death knell of the Labour dream. Nick grows up and becomes seduced by easy money and the London life. And Johnny – well, Johnny’s rage threatens to devour him.

Luke Wright is a tremendous talent. He has been writing and performing his poems for nearly two decades and is a mesmerising presence on stage. The invective tumbles from his lips as he prowls and snarls, never missing a beat. Here, bitterness and fury take centre stage, but behind them is an unmistakable yearning for what might have been.

Words: Judy Diamond

Luke Wright: What I Learned From Johnny Bevan, Underbelly Cowgate, Aug 21–27, 12pm

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