Caro Meets Spoken Word Interview Theatre Interview

Luke Wright: What I Learned From Johnny Bevan

By | Published on Thursday 28 May 2015

If you’re into your spoken word, then you’re probably very much aware of performing poet Luke Wright, who you’ll have come across via his live shows, and multifarious appearances on TV and radio.


When I heard that his latest show is a slight departure from a lot of his previous stand up poetry sets, I was keen to find out more about it. I sent over a few questions about the play and what inspired it.

CM: Without giving too much away, can you tell us a bit about what happens in ‘What I Learned From Johnny Bevan’? What’s the basic plot…?
LW: University of East Anglia, 1997. Nick was the wet-behind-the-ears posh kid in danger of just listlessly living his dad’s life, then he meets Johnny, the angry, whip-smart mercurial kid from a London council estate. Johnny shows a Nick a brave new world of Nestlé boycotts, Marx and new music. Things go wrong for the friends and now twenty years later Nick is jaded with the world and trying to make sense of it all.

CM: What themes does it explore?
LW: Friendship, class politics, and what it means to cut loose (or not) from where you come from. It’s also set against the backdrop of the 1997 election, so I guess it’s a study in hope, an autopsy of aspiration.

CM: What inspired it? Are there any autobiographical elements…?
LW: Aren’t there always? Neither character is based on anyone, although I do have a similar background to Nick and I had a very good friend that I lost in a similar way. There are a few sly references to ‘Brideshead’ in there too. I started thinking, what if Sebastian hadn’t had a trust fund?

CM: This show sounds slightly different from a lot of your previous output – what made you decide to write a more theatrical piece?
LW: I had a story I wanted to tell and I needed to find the best way to tell it. I thought this might be a novel, but in the end the desire to write it in verse overwhelmed the novel idea. I knew if I was to write it in verse the I should have a go at making it performance length. It felt like a manageable step from the five to ten minute ballads I had been writing.

CM: Most of your performances are solo, aren’t they? How does the rehearsal process work when it’s just you? Or do you get other people in to give their perspective?
LW: I tend to “run-in” more than rehearse. I learn about a text live, see how it works in front of an audience through repeated performances; build little scratch sessions into my normal sets. That said, with this I did rehearse with a producer – Kate Harvey – not extensively, mind, just enough to learn about how other humans’ (not me) responses to what I was saying; time to think about what to do with my hands.

CM: This performance is part of The Last Word festival at the Roundhouse – can you tell us a bit about that and how you got involved with it? What other Last Word events would you recommend?
LW: The Roundhouse are doing good things for spoken word, and I guess this is their celebration of that. I’m delighted to be part of it. I think Tim Clare is also doing something, he’s always worth catching.

CM: What happens next for this show? Edinburgh? Touring?
LW: This show goes to Edinburgh, to Summerhall. I’ll also be doing my latest stand-up poetry show, ‘Stay-at-Home Dandy’ at the Underbelly. Then maybe I’ll have a little sit down.

What I Learned From Johnny Bevan is on at the Roundhouse on 29 May. See this page here for more info and to book tickets, and this page here for more shows on as part of The Last Word.

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