Review: What I learned from Johnny Bevan

Blair, Thatcher, Poll tax, political awakening, gentrification and the disillusionment which accompanies growing up; these are all themes, which made an appearance in Luke Wright’s What I Learned from Johnny Bevan at the North Wall last Friday.

This was well balanced by the occasional effortless slip into a ‘made-in-Chelsea’ styled accent of Tilly or Milly and Nick’s panic at being considered racist, just because by the time he reached university, he had only ever met two black people (an experience to which I could utterly relate, growing up in moderately rural Essex). Luke’s energetic performance was utterly transfixing and his presentation of the reality of university life powerfully accurate.

He touches on the socially promoted expectation that you will meet your friends for life at university, defining this as people that fulfil certain unachievable expectations in your head, only to realise that people everywhere are just people, and wherever you go, you will always need some football team to pretend to support. The images of 1960’s high rises towering in the background served to situate the audience in reality. These were not just comical characters of an imaginary world. The failure of Blair’s government was a miserable reality for many.

The journey of Johnny from a poetical political dreamer to a wrecked squatter, terrified by the idea of repeating the pitiful life of a previous generation, yet ultimately drawn to that fate because of political parties which had failed to listen to voices like his, was a hard hitting punch of the unfairness of life; the presentation of both Johnny’s dreams and ultimate desecration, a slap of reality for any current student and a reminder to keep firmly fixed in the ultimate weaknesses of mankind. Indeed this was no easy ride for the audience; we all left fairly beaten up. Johnny’s desperate call to Nick: “Does it own you? It owns me everyday?” paints a tragic picture of a disappointed idealist. But for such dreamers, the performance grants no clear answer, apart from a warning of overestimating the world around you.

To perform poetry sole in a number of different characters for a whole hour is an impressive feat by anyone’s standards. Luke was meticulous in this task. As he took his final bow, the lady next to me expressed surprise that anyone could have that much stamina. This genre, a hybrid of poetry and theatre, is reminiscent to some degree of the works of Shakespeare and medieval epic poems. Dynamically presented, all in iambics and with an ending as upsetting as any tragedy, Luke Wright, in view of the current political state, is a poet to watch. Indeed according to Johnny Bevan, there are only two categories: ‘shit’ or ‘proper’ – there is no middle ground. That being the case, this performance was proper.