Blog: Luke Wright

The verse poet and performer on his new show Frankie Vah, in which the protagonist 'gorges on love, radical politics, and skuzzy indie stardom'

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My verse plays, like much of my other work, try to blend the personal and the political – to show how policy and discourse can affect the way we live our day-to-day lives. My first play, What I Learned From Johnny Bevan, dealt with the legacy of New Labour, and in particular their failure to eradicate class as they hoped to. In Frankie Vah I go back 30 years and focus on a labour activist/ranting poet in Thatcher’s Britain.

The play isn’t some extended rant against Thatcher. What could be said about Thatcher that hasn’t already been said? Instead it focuses on the internal struggles of the Labour Party. In 2016 I was watching the Labour Party tear itself apart over Trident and Brexit. The right of the party was gunning for the leadership. The leadership was showing itself to be particularly tin-eared on certain issues. The Tories were riding high as a result.

But it’s hard trying to make sense of the events unfolding in front of your eyes, especially if you’re writing in verse. Writing in verse is a painfully slow process – you can’t just splurge and edit. I knew that if I was going to spend a year of my life crafting a 9,000 word poem I wasn’t going to risk there being some big political event that might render the whole thing out of date. Besides, a sense of time and perspective always helps.

So I went back in time to the last occasion when Labour was publicly tearing itself apart: the 1980s. I was born in 1982, so there are events I talk about that happened before I was born. But I’ve had a healthy interest

It’s hard to believe modern events will have the same pull on the heart. But they will

in modern political history for a few years now, and it was thrilling to bring back to life iconic moments such as the Healey/Benn deputy leadership contest, Kinnock: the Movie, and the Battle of Orgreave.

As a child of the 1980s these events feel like folklore – like Live Aid, the fall of the Berlin wall, or Maradona’s hand of god. Time has rendered them almost magical. It’s hard to believe modern events will have the same pull on the heart. But they will. In 30 years time Grenfell, Brexit and the Windrush scandal will be folklore for the iGenners who have some vague recollection of glimpsing them on the screen during those golden, fuzzy years of school trips, ice creams and holidays.

For those who were there in the 1980s, the show has a nostalgic quality. I make no apology for that. We like to look at old photographs. But encased within the nostalgia are political themes and ideas that are very relevant today, and will be again in future. There’s also a personal story – a coming-of-age tale that’s as rife with failure and heartbreak as it is hope. Older people have asked me how I’ve managed to capture their youth so effectively, but in truth I haven’t. I’ve captured my own – the hope, the booze, the unstinting belief in something or someone, and the inevitable ice water of reality and dawning realisation you might have got it all wrong. The only difference is here we have The Smiths on the soundtrack.

Frankie Vah is at the Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds, 13 May, as part of the Words in the City festival, and the Old Fire Station, Carlisle, 23 May

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