Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: What I Learned from Johnny Bevan, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Mark Fisher.
It’s the middle of the show and Luke Wright has taken on the character of Johnny Bevan. A working-class performance poet, Bevan has been turning heads at the university lit soc with his blend of ferocity and street-cred infused with a dazzling way with words.
This is the late 1990s, just before the victory of Tony Blair, and Bevan is letting rip with a poem called I Wanna Take Tea With The Tories. The poem crackles with righteous anger at the over-privileged and powerful. Wright gives it such a blistering rendition that he earns a round of a applause from the Summerhall audience.
It takes a moment to remember that this is a poem within a poetic monologue. Wright is actually already in character as Nick, a fellow ex-student who has been sucked into the shallow world of corporate metropolitan media and is now looking back to his ideological youth, a time when the charismatic Bevan showed him the way.
Written with the feel for rhythm you’d expect of a poet making his theatrical debut, Wright’s play charts a journey from Things-Can-Only-Get-Better hope to post-Iraq disillusionment. It’s a story for our times; one where a former firebrand can be fooled into thinking there’s merit in Ukip policies and where a brutalist tower block can be turned from a working-class sink estate into a festival venue, the plaything of wealthy fashionistas looking for the authentic urban experience.
As far as I know, this Urbania Festival is a product of Wright’s imagination and no PR guru has yet suggested anything so crass, but his invention is grimly believable.
If there’s room for Wright to develop the connection he makes between the personal and the political, he nonetheless gives a strikingly assured performance of a compelling piece of writing.
Summerhall (Venue 26) until 30 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 19 August 2015
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