Luke Wright's Cynical Ballads (5 stars)

This article is from 2011

Luke Wright's Cynical Ballads

Wonderful slices of fractured Britain

As part of ‘poetry boyband’ Aisle 16, Luke Wright helped to bring spoken verse to a new generation. In his previous solo shows, he has had a dig at Andrew Motion for having the temerity to be Poet Laureate when clearly Luke was the right man for the job (Poet Laureate), riffed about being a grown-up in the 21st century (Poet and Man) and tackled his own petty concerns (The Petty Concerns of Luke Wright).

All of which have been laudable showcases for his vibrant comedic and poetic talents. But Cynical Ballads is truly the real deal. This exquisite hour is partly a history lesson about the origins and development of balladry but mainly taken up by a set of poems about a Britain that Wright views as not so much broken as fractured with characters and stories representing the delicate and chaotic nature of this sceptred isle.

There’s Fat Josh, a wannabe Al Capone who goes on an extreme diet to snare the object of his swollen desire; a tale of inheritance which ends in brittle and ironic calamity; and a soured love story set in a chip shop. When he really gets down to brass tacks, as in ‘The Ballad of Barlow Burton’ (a powerful piece influenced by the case of Fiona Pilkington who killed herself and her disabled daughter after years of abuse from local kids), the result is truly mesmerising.

But while the poet on stage might often cut an isolated figure, Wright is not alone. The screen illustrations by Sam Ratcliffe offer an extra Steadman-esque charge and there are recorded vocals on the final story about a war hero and the addict who burgles him, a raw and uplifting tale where redemption is victorious against retribution. John Cooper Clarke has said of the poet: ‘He must be on some kind of dope’. Whatever it is that Luke Wright has been ingesting, artists of all genres need to get it bottled right now.

Underbelly, 0844 545 8252, until 28 Aug (not 16), 4.15pm, £9.50–£10.50 (£8.50–£9.50).

Luke Wright's Cynical Ballads

  • 5 stars

‘The best young performance poet around’ (Observer) presents eight caustic tales from Broken Britain. Let him lead you through Blighty’s run-down shopping precincts, provincial high streets and airless television studios to introduce a cast of tone-deaf pop wannabes, terrorized single mums and baby-boomers with…

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