Cynical Ballads | Luke WrightPhoto - Rebecca Bruce

In a refreshing celebration of the joy of language, Essex lad and performance poet Luke Wright has made a show out of urban stories, delivered with passion and aplomb. He paints a sad, gritty yet nearly affectionate portrait of life in modern Great Britain, after making opening statements about actually loving old Blighty and his pride in being British. It's just as well he does make this claim, because, true to the show's title, these are not pretty tales.

is a poet of calibre with a proper understanding of metre and timing, something he shares as part of his mini history lesson of balladry. He has a go at a contemporary literary darling, Simon Armitage, as well as members of the cultural canon such as Keats. Wright acknowledges how much the world of ballad poetry owes to Oscar Wilde's sublime Ballad of Reading Gaol. Wright's tales are accompanied by terrific illustrations reminiscent of the work of Ralph Stead, by Sam Ratcliffe.

Wright can spin a rhyming yarn to great effect and his pitch-dark stories are funny and full of insight. He opens with The Drunk Train, a colourful romp through a typical booze-fuelled Saturday night in the UK. With a poet's ear for vowel sounds, onometapeia and rhythm, Wright makes vivid and disturbing verbal pictures. My favourite had to be the one about SKIERS - baby boomers intent on spending everything before they die so their spoiled offspring inherit nothing. The lengths this couple go to are hilarious.

Whether lambasting the banality of popular culture with the story of the suprising, untalented success in Melanie Who Had None, lampooning the born-in-the-right-place-and-time Brunger family, or commiserating with a local fish and chip shop owner's broken heart, Wright scorns, pities and lampoons a raft of characters. Some simply have their stories told, with feeling, with heart, with anger. There is a couple of moving, unnerving stories that you wish weren't true but are. He finishes with a very beautiful song as part of a homage to the dignity of an aging soldier, just before reboarding The Drunk Train. Brilliant stuff, intelligent, honest and truly entertaining. This show makes you want more of this sort of thing.

Melbourne Festival presents
Luke Wright

Venue: The Malthouse, Beckett Theatre | 113 Sturt Street, Southbank VIC
Dates: 23 – 27 Oct 2012
Tickets: $45.00 - $25.00
Bookings: (03) 9685 5111 | Ticketmaster 136 100

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