What I learned from Johnny Bevan, Luke Wright – Review by Syd Meats

Shelley Theatre, 13 October

This is performance poet Luke Wright’s first work in the format of a play. It opens with a poem in a rhythmic tetrameter, setting the scene of a vibrant London which exists for the elite and the tourists, but “not for you.”

He narrates from the perspective of his character Nick, a journalist covering the launch of an overpriced literary festival called Urbania. The event’s luxury chalets are the gentrified flats of The Grooms – a notorious tower block estate, and former home of his university friend Johnny Bevan.

We are taken back to Nick’s time at university as a Law student. Johnny impresses Nick with his performance poetry, and introduces him to his left-leaning friends and his passion for socialism. Swept away on a tide of optimism as New Labour is elected, Nick is invited to stay with Johnny’s family during the summer. Johnny’s less than harmonious home environment means that things don’t go quite to plan.

As Luke explains during the Q & A following the play, the story aims to capture the ideas of Brideshead Revisited, but in this case the protagonist is influenced by a working class character rather than an aristocrat. As the plot progresses, Johnny (representing the Lord Sebastian character) drops out of college and is next heard of living in a squat.

Nick’s biggest shock in the whole sequence of events is not the transformation of The Grooms into Urbania, but the emergence of Johnny as the author of right-wing anti-Islamic posts on Facebook. As he confronts him at the squat, Johnny asks, “Now you’re here to save me from myself?”

Wright succeeds in capturing the disappointment of many when faced with the realities of New Labour, and stimulates thought on how our political views are formed and influenced. He is currently writing a new play on the theme of Labour in-fighting, and I look forward to seeing the finished work.

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