A regular on BBC Radio 4 and a veteran of the festival scene, the return of highly accomplished spoken-word poet Luke Wright to Bristol's Old Vic was eagerly anticipated.
Following his tour de force performance in Bristol last Summer, this latest appearance at Blahblahblah was set to build on the solid foundation he’d laid previously. Eschewing any support so that he could perform his full show ‘Essex Lion’, it was a great opportunity for those in the South-West to see the wordsmith riding high after a successful summer and a highly-rated run at the Edinburgh Festival.
Never one to start with a whimper, Wright burst into life under the hot spotlights of the basement theatre, opening with an explosive piece that explored the alleged ‘Essex Lion’ sighting which sparked excitement and widespread media coverage back in 2012.
Loud, witty and energetic, the exuberant introduction proved a great start to his show that grabbed the audience by the scruff of the neck and demanded their full attention. Of particular note was the inspired rhyming of ‘Benny’ (a slang insult) with 'MGM-y' (a superbly left-field description of the lion!). Giving the room a proper chance to soak in the unorthodox line, an enjoyably over-the-top recap was given to highlight his proud linguistic accomplishment.
This quirky ingenuity continued throughout the evening, clearly evident in poems covering topics as brilliantly diverse as Wright’s undying desire (but repeated failure) to look cool in heeled boots, the lacklustre working practices of a ‘Posh Plumber’ he’d once hired in error and an alternative piece centred around UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
As funny as it was, the show also offered greater depth than the laughs alone, touching on resonant nerves of existential angst common to us all. Whether rose-tinting our pasts, idealising our futures or chasing a sense of fulfillment in our next shiny purchase or potential career move, the topics he mentioned were thought-provoking and relatable. It was such moments of considered reflection and insight, interwoven subtly into his performance, that elevate his work into the ‘Premier League’ of his peers.
Whilst able to capture the room with such poignant, weighted pauses over the course of the evening, the momentum was never allowed to stall, instead being expertly lifted at the right moments to maintain a buoyant path throughout the emotional peaks and troughs of the show’s narrative.
Often quick to endearingly satirise his own ego and self-image (within well-balanced moderation), Wright’s larger-than-life first impression is soon a distant memory and clearly just one contributing piece of a more complex and contemplative puzzle.
Maintaining the unpredictable nature of the night, a nostalgic curveball was thrown that centred around a childhood encounter with TV’s ‘Lovejoy’. Crafted of rich, relatable imagery, the poem carved out long, intense silences that hung in the air in front of the transfixed audience, before snapping back into rhythmic action. Peppered with quirky references and quips that ranged in source from Lord of the Rings to the changing rooms of H&M, Wright’s repertoire was as inspiringly broad as it was amusingly unique.
The topics continued to flow from all directions including pruned political content, dips into a brilliantly conceited teenage diary and a look at the sobering mortality of aging rock icons, to highlight just a few.
Charmingly diverse and highly entertaining, the night skipped past all too quickly. Over the course of the memorable performance, the audience had lapped up the easy presence, winning charm and resonant content crafted by Luke Wright, who proved himself a talented raconteur with a broad range of delivery.
Briefly picking up the ‘Essex Lion’ theme to conclude the narrative, the brilliantly eclectic evening had come full circle. As the house lights rose to the ‘Lovejoy’ theme tune (a tongue-in-cheek nod to his earlier poem), the applause roared for Luke Wright and the well-rounded, commendably unpredictable and highly enjoyable journey that was ‘Essex Lion’.
Photography: Darren Paul Thompson
Image Editing: George Dallimore