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Frankie Vah review at Norwich Playhouse – ‘thrilling and galvanising’

Luke Wright in Frankie Vah at Norwich Playhouse. Photo: Idil Sukan Luke Wright in Frankie Vah at Norwich Playhouse. Photo: Idil Sukan
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If I could take the entire Parliamentary Labour Party to see Luke Wright’s new verse play, I would. The Bungay-based performance poet’s last one-man show, What I Learned From Johnny Bevan, painted an anarchic portrait of millennial dissatisfaction with New Labour. Frankie Vah travels further back, to the 1987 election, but it burns with even brighter contemporary political relevance.

Wright – bathed in red light and backed by a soundtrack of jangling guitar – is Simon Mortimer, aka Frankie Vah, the renegade, rhyme-spewing son of an Essex vicar, who recaptures the beer-soaked bravura of his uni days as the warm-up act for a hard-left rock group. Vah’s drug-fuelled journey, shot through with romance and righteous anger, is captured deliciously in Wright’s punchy poetry.

The crux of the show, though, is in the debate it reconstructs about the heart and soul of the British Left. For Vah’s despair with Kinnock, substitute Wright’s contempt for Blair. For his open, eloquent hatred of Thatcher, read a bitter disgust with May.

This isn’t just socialist agit-prop, though; it reaches far further than that. In his visceral, virile verse, Wright skewers the essential cadences of all political drama – ideology vs electability, loyalty vs compromise, principles vs power – and, as Vah’s life collapses and Thatcher sweeps back into Downing Street, he finds a resonant note of defiant hope.

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Luke Wright's thrilling, galvanising new verse play exploring the politics of the 1980s and the soul of the British Left