I’ve gone and won a bloody award. In fact, I have won TWO!
What I Learned From Johnny Bevan has won a FRINGE FIRST and I also won The Stage Award for Acting Excellence – one of of only five they gave out to single actors at The Fringe. I’m cock-a-hoop.
Of course awards are all bollocks and there’s a good deal of luck involved. There are countless excellent things up here that deserve awards and don’t get them. I acknowledge my good fortune. Hopefully this will mean the show gets more bookings for the tour. What it comes down to is as many people as possible seeing the show and making a connection with it. That’s why we make art.
I also had a nice review from The Daily Record yesterday. That’s mainstream baby!
What I Learned From Johnny Bevan is probably my best reviewed Fringe show ever.
★★★★★ Exeunt Magazine – “It says so much about idealism and youth and maturity and compromise – and love”
★★★★★ The Skinny – “Performed in verse that bounds and soars effortlessly … compelling and relatable”
★★★★★ Broadway Baby – “writing that not only captures you in the theatre but also stays with you for days afterwards.”
★★★★ Guardian – “A pulsating piece of poetic storytelling”
★★★★ Scotsman – “Blistering… a story of our times”
★★★★ Time Out – “An evocative monologue about personal and political awakening”
★★★★ The Stage – “a coming-of-age story exploring male relationships and the nature of disillusionment in people and politics”
★★★★ Fest – “On The Road for the Brit Pop generation”
★★★★ The List – “full of humour, sadness and political fury”
★★★★ A Younger Theatre – “beautifully plotted and completely engaging, reminding us that politics affects everything”
★★★★ TV Bomb – “a fantastic debut”
★★★★ To Do List – “feel at times like he is talking just to you and no-one else”
★★★★★ Edinburgh49 – “a simple story that is powerfully written and mesmerizingly performed”
I first saw Ross Sutherland and Roddy Lumsden attempt this at Homework. The poets bring all their stuff on stage with them, armed with as many collections as they have. The first poet choses a poem, performs/reads it and the other poet has to respond to that in some way. Yes, you get a bit of shoe-horning (“He mentioned a cat in passing, now my cat opus in ottava rima”) but the result is a lovely, meandering trip through interesting and off-beat pieces the poets don’t usually read. I did with Phil Jupitus in Laugharne last year and loved the experience.
So we’re bringing the POETRY BATTLE to Edinburgh. Actually it’s more of a Royal Rumble. Elvis McGonagall, Rob Auton, John Osborne, Jemima Foxtrot, Johnny Fluffypunk and me will battle it out tonight (Monday 17 August.) There are no winners, unless its THE AUDIENCE!
And what’s more it’s in the gorgeous confines of Paines Plough’s Roundabout – the world’s first portable theatre. You’ll find that at Summerhall. We’re on at 10.30pm. Tickets are a mere fiver. GET YOURS HERE.
As Week One draws to a close I thought I’d recap the responses my shows have been getting.
WHAT I LEARNED FROM JOHNNY BEVAN
“What I Learned From Johnny Bevan is a fantastic debut from a rare poetic talent. At times it feels like a film put to verse. It is a strong and personal story told by an original and absorbing performer.” ★★★★ TV BOMB
“On the Road for the Britpop generation … electric.” ★★★★ FEST
“Anyone familiar with Wright’s work will recognise his deft hand in showing the complexities of male relationships … a political and personal coming-of-age narrative that, while rarely breaking out of a set rhythm and rhyme scheme, still manages to evoke the chaotic passion of awakening.” ★★★★ TIMEOUT
“This is a completely engaging performance which is delivered with an energy both raw and crisp. Wright really commands the space … The tension and experience created by this one man is admirable.” ★★★★ 1/2 TODOLIST
“Sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking, What I Learned From Johnny Bevan is beautifully plotted and completely engaging, reminding us that politics affects everything.” ★★★★ A YOUNGER THEATRE
“Luke is an amazing performer and an excellent writer… The poems are never short of laughs and paint a portrait of a middle class rural England.” ★★★★ TV BOMB
“In actual fact, Wright could just as easily be a stand-up comedian. His preamble before poems is as good as the verse itself; his quick quips, amusing anecdotes and witty gags allow him to quickly build a very strong rapport with us, his chattiness and laid-back confidence making him extremely likeable.” ★★★★ BROADWAY BABY
“Luke Wright delivers up thought-provoking social commentary and rivetingly emotive wordplay, as he uses the minutiae of his life as a stay-at-home dad to put some stereotypes through the wringer. Powerful and poignant, with Wright an engaging presence.” ★★★★ THE DAILY MAIL
“The man and his poetry made me laugh and cry, a difficult balance to achieve and which perhaps come from Wright’s observations of our austere and interesting times.” ★★★★ THE MUMBLE
I also had my first opinion piece published in the Independent. And not just on the site, but in the actual paper too. Hurrah for me!
We are a full week in! The Edinburgh Fringe runs for three and bit weeks. There’s what they call Week Zero, which is the first few previews and the first weekend. Then Week One, which started on Monday. We’re half way through that now.
Week Zero is knuckle down time. The drinking is fairly controlled as shows are run in. Performers sensibly call it a night around midnight. They want to be fresh. Like in a new relationship, they want to give their shows the next day the best of themselves. Besides what can a festival bar offer them that their new shiny piece of art can’t?
Yesterday I performed Stay-at-Home Dandy for the seventh time in seven days. I felt tired. It didn’t help that yesterday was what Fringe insiders call Black Wednesday. Black Wednesday is a fairly new concept. It began when the Fringe moved its two-for-one days from Sunday and Monday to Monday and Tuesday. Now, the Wednesday is first full price weekday of the Fringe. Sales inevitably slump.
Stay-at-Home Dandy has been doing ok sales wise, building slowly, but yesterday I played to ten people. Ten. Yeah, I know. And look, it was fine. They liked it, I did a good job, everyone left smiling, but it was hard work. When you’re making jokes on stage your timing is reliant on laughter from the audience. The laughter from ten people is enviably quieter and shorter that that of forty. Your timing gets thrown off. The show is like a car that’s lost its power steering. Afterwards, you ache.
In week zero you’re prepared for all that. Your natural ebullience carries you through. Midway through Week One it knocks you a bit. And after all that I said yesterday about the shows bouying me up!
But hey that’s the Fringe for you! It’s so up and down. Each day feels so long that to violently alter your view on the world and your place in it from day to day seems natural. After all, it feels a life time ago you felt so good about things.
And then, this weekend, the drinking truly starts. All those spices and herbs you bought for cooking with at home sit forlornly on the side as you consume massive pizzas at 3am and wolf down chocolate for breakfast. The shine of your new show dulls slightly. The romance begins to die. You fart in front of it and piss with the door open. Will you and it stand the test of time? To quote Larkin, “we shall find out.”
I wrIte these blogs in the morning, which is perhaps why I have focused on the more business end of things of late. Come the morning I’m worrying about reviews, checking the sales reports and generally despairing of my lot, but today I wanted to talk about the feeling I get after the shows.
Before Johnny Bevan yesterday our projector (or rather the projector we are hiring at great expense from the venue) refused to give us the settings we spent 4 hours perfecting in tech. We had to use a much bigger image in the end and the show went up five minutes late. It was so frustrating and stressful to deal with right before a show, but it should be said that it’s standard fare for Edinburgh. The venues are held together very precariously and you simply don’t get the equipment and support you can expect on tour.
But. But. But. The moment I walked on stage all that frustration disappeared. The audience number had grown from the day before. Still not where we need it, but getting there! And they listened. They really listen to this show, you can see it on their faces. We all like to be listened too, right? That feeling is heightened by the fact that all the words are just as I want them. I’ve spent months and months writing, editing, cutting and practicing these words. And there are so many bits of the show I look forward to performing. I get a little pang of joy when I realise each one is approaching: the description of Johnny’s first talk with (at) Nick; the 1997 election scene; Nick’s first day as a student; the angry final scene in Johnny’s squat.
Yesterday was double good because I got a standing ovation from some of the audience. That’s twice that has happened with this show. At Latitude it was exciting but there were 900 people crammed into a tent, so there was a sense of occasion. When it happened yesterday in a room of 30 people it was amazing, sometimes it is hard to make an audience of 30 feel they are at a proper show, let alone have that happen. I feel blessed.
It’s always a dash after coming off stage. I change my shirt and sprint up the road to The Underbelly. And my mood has totally changed. It doesn’t matter about reviews and numbers and all the other shit that goes with Edinburgh. What matters is how that audience LISTENED; how I connected with them; how the story I spent months perfecting had done the work it was supposed to do.
After that, Stay-at-Home Dandy is a complete joy. On laugh count it’s easily my funniest show. And we all like making people laugh, right? I’ve got the links between poems really well worked out now. Again there are loads of bits I look forward to (I shan’t spoil the illusion of spontaneity by sharing them here). After the intensity of JB it’s great to just relax with a bunch of people who like poetry. It feels spontaneous and special.
Have I gone the other way now? Too gushy? Sure, I am part-tortured writer, but I’m part-luvvie too, so it comes with the territory. Performing my own work is my job, but mostly I only get to do it two or three times a week. Edinburgh is one of the few times I’m not underemployed. Yes, it’s a slog. Yes, it might bankrupt me. But mate! It’s good to be working.
Ps – The Daily Mail have reviewed Stay-at-Home Dandy! I got four stars, they said: “Luke Wright delivers up thought-provoking social commentary and rivetingly emotive wordplay, as he uses the minutiae of his life as a stay-at-home dad to put some stereotypes through the wringer. Powerful and poignant, with Wright an engaging presence.” They’re still scumbags though.
I love getting a review. Another human being sitting down to critically engage with the piece of work I’ve made – what’s not to like? It’s the ultimate kind of ego stroke, of course I like it. But that doesn’t mean I have liked all my reviews.
There was that one where they described what I did as “a sort of gentle rap.” Or the one where they said I was “about as funny as river blindness.” Or the one when an anonymous internet reviewer said I “badly need sterilising.” I have now had a vasectomy, I hope he’s pleased. Mostly though my reviewers and I agree on my utter, utter brilliance. The only thing we haggle over is stars.
Stars is a big deal up here. Most punters are blind to them. They read the words and think “wow that sounds good” and wonder what our problem is. Meanwhile the comedians and poets and producers drown their sorrows saying things like: “but it read like a four!” Or “what do I have to do to get a five!” Or “they gave me four stars in 2005, are really suggesting my magnum opus is akin to a student play!!!!!” And so on and so on.
Rating shows out of five is obviously reductive and unable to do justice to the complexities of the art. That is of course why you have the review. But you can’t easily plaster a review to your posters or staple them to your flyers. Instead, you dazzle with a big list of stars. For this purpose fours are good, but you really want five.
It’s amazing how you can get behind the the shit star rating system when your show is getting five star reviews. I’ve had about 90 reviews at Edinburgh over the years. I’ve probably had about 20 five star reviews, 15 or so threes, and all the rest fours. Apart from the two star review Steve Bennett from Chortle gave me and Joel Stickley for Who Writes This Crap? in 2008. Not that I remember it or anything. We were not stilted!
So I’ve had a good time from the reviewers. I shouldn’t complain. And I don’t really. That said, I’ve always felt like I deserved a good time. I feel like I have brought good work to the Fringe. Nearly all my three star reviews were in 2007 for a show that wasn’t ready and rightly met with lukewarm responses. The rest of the time I’ve had nearly all four stars with one or two publications bestowing the magic five on me.
Getting a five feels a bit like alchemy. After all I picked up a few fives in 2006 for my first poetry show, what was really an immature piece of work from someone who was just finding his feet. Whereas I think I only scraped a single five in 2013 for Essex Lion, which was a much stronger show. However, if you read the actual reviews from 2013 you would get a more accurate sense of what kind of calibre of piece I had created. There is an element of luck involved. The right reviewer has to see the show on the right day. They have to not be feeling to jaded or not just seen another show they preferred. The Stars have to align (if you’ll excuse the pun).
But those five nuggets of gold from the right publication (Guardian, Scotsman, List etc) can ignite a run and make a real difference to your life #rent # food etc. So even though it seems silly, it matters to us. We can’t help but hope for the perfect five.
Here’s another four star review for Johnny Bevan. Read the words. I’ll take it.
Numbers. It’s all about the numbers. As a poet I am no stranger to small audiences. It’s an acquired habit, right? Only for the incredibly intelligent with excellent taste.
These days on tour I play to pretty good houses in most places. There are still a few rooms that feel more cavernous than they rightly should but things are beginning to look up. It only took sixteen years.
But here in Edinburgh the old obsession creeps back in. “It’s quiet everywhere today;” “it’s not really started yet;” “I reckon we’ll get quite a good walk-up;” “no ones really buying tickets in advance at the moment.” All the old mantras creak into use. We tell ourselves this to feel better, of course. We should know better, they are cold comfort, and all just variations on the old adage: “it ain’t you Luke, this whole business is going down the swanny.”
Which isn’t true. Across town my pal Bryonny Kimmings has sold out her entire Fringe run. So there are punters out there. They’re just not coming to see me. Yet.
Yes! Panic not, things are not lost. I have two things on my side. My shows. I have two excellent shows. That sounds boastful. But I’ve just spent four paragraphs lamenting my woeful professional situation, so cut me some slack.
I believe in both of these shows. Stay-at-Home Dandy is my strongest suit of poems to date. It’s already toured the country and has assured me of that. In fact, even though I had a small house (of about 20 punters) yesterday we all had a great time. Even two years ago, a small crowd would have made life difficult for me to really get everyone laughing. Not now. It’s under control.
What I Learned From Johnny Bevan is selling fewer tickets. But I can see the expressions on the faces of the audience at the of the show. I am reading their tweets about it. Surely it’ll break, surely. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s the fourteenth show I’ve made as well, so I know a thing or two about this.
So it comes down to two factors: word of mouth and reviews. I’m waiting on about five reviews. I ‘ve had one so far. Johnny Bevan had a lovely review yesterday – go on, click it. Not bad eh?
I know this all sounds rather self-pitying. It’s not. I don’t feel sorry for myself. Yet. Ha ha ha. But this is the reality of it. You spend a year (or more) sweating over your art (yes, I went there) and that is the brilliant feeling. To work on something you believe in. To believe in something. And then you come up here and it’s all: “what’s the bottom line?” But y’know, you want people to see your art. Christ, I made this for you! Umm, that was an blasphemous exclamation btw, I wasn’t addressing Jesus. I didn’t make a one man play about the class and the death of New Labour for Jesus.
And of course there is that other thing: money. It’s cost about ten grand to bring these shows up there. So far I have made about a tenth of that back. #rent # food etc.
Right now I am sitting on a bench in Southside. I’ve paused on my morning walk to pen you this missive. There’s that lovely early morning tinge to the air. And I don’t feel defeated. I feel hopeful. And that is a sweet thing. Today I shall try to remember that brilliant feeling and keep the numbers at bay.
There is only 25 mins between What I Learned From Johnny Bevan finishing and Stay-at-Home Dandy beginning. The walk between venues takes 15 minutes, even with my long shanks. Is this the stupidest Edinburgh schedule yet?
When the gigs were booked I checked it on Google Maps and realised it was possible and then thought no more about it. But as the festival drew ever closer I began to panic. Was it even possible? What if JB over ran? Could I even manage to do two shows one after the other?
But it’s fine. I get to The Underbelly with ten minutes to spare, change my clothes, apply make-up, back comb my hair and voila – from disaffected middle-aged music journo to flamboyant dandified poet in seconds.
I was equally worries about my decision to even bring Dandy up here at all. I did so because I’m really proud of it and I believe it my best show of poems to date, but then I started to think maybe it won’t sell, and as I concentrated more and more on Johnny Bevan it just felt like it was an extra stress I did not need.
But again, I should have trusted my first instinct. It’s lovely having an hour to unwind after the intensity of Johnny Bevan. I know Dandy inside out. It’s really playful and I feel very at ease with my audience.
Performing JB is strange for me because I can’t break the verse and talk to the audience. I’ve been doing that on stage for 16 years so there is a strong compulsion to say “Hi!” So getting to chat and add parentheses to the poems in Dandy is a well-needed antidote.
JB went very well yesterday. Paul, my excellent producer pulled out all the stops and we had a good house. Almost full. Double good as we had press in. In fact I had press for both of my shows yesterday. So now the great review wait begins.
The mood right now is hopeful. Time, predictably, will tell.
I love this city, it’s rugged and beautiful. If it were an 80s TV star it would be Ian McShane. I’m spending a month in Lovejoy, not bad, eh ladies?
My kids and wife are here with me this week and we’ve been doing full on kid activities before I rush off for techs and get-ins and rehearsals and shows.
I’ve done two shows of Stay-at-Home Dandy and one of What I Learned From Johnny Bevan. I’ve been pretty happy with all of them. The start of JB was a little grave yesterday but the audience response was good. It’s still quiet in JB but Dandy is already beginning to build audience wise.
It’s just a waiting game now. Waiting for reviews, for bigger audiences, for potential new work to come out of it.
My eldest son has had a good time of it. In two days he climbed Arthur’s Seat with me and taught himself to swim! Not bad for a six year old. Maybe that’s the Edinburgh magic. I hope some of it rubs off on me.