New show sees Luke go for long form story

Luke Wright

Luke Wright - Credit: Archant

Norfolk poet Luke Wright gives a sneak preview of his ambitious new full-length show in Norwich next week. SIMON PARKIN finds out more.

Norwich audiences will get a special preview next week when Norfolk poet Luke Wright gives a scratch 'work-in-progress' performance of his latest work What I Learned From Johnny Bevan, which he will take to the Edinburgh Festival and out on tour later this year.

A spoken story about friendship, the class divide, and a really bad idea for a festival, it marks an ambitious new direction, being a full length theatrical piece.

The plot revolves around Nick who has fallen out love with his job and his city. At the launch of URBANIA, a new 'urban festival', held at an abandoned council estate, he is reminded of his tragic friendship with the brilliant and mercurial Johnny Bevan.

Written and performed in visceral, punchy verse by Luke, with a score by Ian Catskilken of Berlin-based English-German indie rockers Art Brut, it is being performed in a double-bill with The Tiger's Bride, the current pseudonym of singer and multi instrumentalist Polly Wright.

What is the inspiration behind What I Learned From Johnny Bevan? I've long been interested in intense friendships. There are a whole set of rules for romantic relationships, a widely accepted moral code, less so for friendships. What do we owe our friends? At what point do we call time on their anti-social behaviour? We've all known a larger than life character who seems to lose it all. Johnny Bevan is that guy. I was inspired by Brideshead Revisted, but that's a book with very little social conscience. What would have happened to Sebastian Flyte if he hadn't had a trust fund. It is described as more theatrical and based on a single story, do you see that as a natural progression for you? It's certainly more of a challenge. It depresses me that writers of one genre are kind of expected to try their hand at other genres. I feel a pressure to do something that isn't poetry, which is crazy and probably manufactured entirely in my head. I've been writing ballads of about 10 mins for a few years, in 2011 I wrote a long poem in ottava rima (a style of rhyming stanzas often used for mock heroic verse) which was about 25 minutes. So yeah, it's been building for a while. Is a single narrative more challenging? It's longer so there are more places for it all to come crashing down. I like to take a run up at my poems, the idea sits in a note book for a while gestating before I am ready to write it, Johnny Bevan took longer. I've approached the writing as if it is a very long poem. I wanted it to have all the energy and flair of my shorter ballads. Now the writing is over I'm adding extra bells and whistles like visuals and a score. Nick is said to put on an 'urban festival'. As someone who has been involved in more than your fair share of festivals, have you drawn on personal experience? He goes to cover the launch of one in his capacity as an arts journalist. As a writer I draw on my life experiences all the time. URBANIA is awful though, makes Latitude look like a socialist enterprise. How did Ian Catskilken from Art Brut come to be involved? I know Ian through Eddie Argos [Art Brut lead singer]. Ian, Eddie, John Osborne [Norwich writer] and I got hammered at Leeds Festival about four years ago and we spent time in Edinburgh together in 2013. He's a great bloke, utterly devoid of pretension and a superlative musician. I wanted to score to be guitar based to reflect the sort of stuff the characters were in to. It was an easy decision to go to Ian. It's a work-in-progress. Is that daunting or liberating? It gives you more margin for error. I'm treating it like it's the real thing, pushing myself to the max, but then, the next day, I can shrug and go back to the drawing board. I guess in that respect it's liberating.

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How much will the audience reaction influence the final piece? Plenty, as much as I can work out what their reaction means. I've also got loads of trusted colleagues and friends who will be there, their opinions will help me shape the next draft. That said, I think I know where the shortcomings are already. Why did you choose Norwich for this first performance? Norwich Arts Centre is a home away from home. They have very kindly co-commissioned this piece and given me a bit of money towards its development. It's a great space, it's close to home and they're lovely people. It was no-brainer, really. What are the future plans for What I Learned From Johnny Bevan? There'll be a few more previews then it gets its full premiere at this year's Edinburgh Festival which will be followed by a full UK tour. I'm also touring my show Stay At Home Dandy, which features some of my latest shorter poems, around the country between March and June. n Luke Wright and The Tiger's Bride, Norwich Arts Centre, January 21, 8pm, £10 (£8 cons), 01603 660352,

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