Edinburgh Fringe 2017
It is 1987. Simon Mortimer, the vicar’s son from Essex, loses his religion to radical politics, ranting poetry, and his beloved girlfriend Eve, Simon performs his poetry as Frankie Vah. They live in love and penury, but when Frankie goes on tour with an indie band his new world is put to the test.
Luke Wright is no stranger to sell out Edinburgh shows. His previous show, What I Learned from Johnny Bevan, earnt him a Fringe First in 2015 and he returns to the festival this time with an even more ambitious solo show set in the mid-1980s in Thatcher’s Britain.
Simon Mortimer leads a mundane existence in an Essex vicarage until discovery of creative writing at university coupled with a political awakening sets him on the path of activism through performance poetry; a heady combination for a young man and one that leads to academic crash and burn. Back home without a degree he loses his drive to rebel, gradually losing touch with his rabble- rousing mates but he his rescued from a dead end office job by Eve, a painter who becomes his muse and together they escape to London, innocents determined to change the world.
Wright is an engaging performer both as Simon the narrator and Simon the slam poet starting out at pub gigs struggling with confidence until one night he is discovered by a band manager looking for a support act for his rising indie band. Frankie Vah is born and goes on the road, seeing an opportunity to motivate the anti-Thatcher opposition in the lead up to the general election. Although Simon makes daft decisions which have a dire outcome for him, we sympathise because Wright has created a fully rounded character.
The script is a mixture of slam poetry, blank verse and rhyming couplets but delivered with such competence and confidence it loses all the negative connations of poetry, being neither pompous nor obscure. Wright brings energy, passion and self-deprecating humour to the stage, shining a perceptive spotlight on the left wing struggles against Tory dominance and the bitter internal warfare in the Labour party which resulted in Thatcher winning another term of office in 1987.
Possible because I am a similar age to Simon Mortimer (and consequently really enjoyed the nostalgia trip) the element of the show that I found least successful was in evoking the 1980s. The costume wasn’t quite right and there were a couple of moments in the script that jarred as being too modern. Wright uses back projection to set scenes and maybe more iconic images from the decade would help. However this is not a period piece per se and probably part of the motivation for writing this play was the political upheaval of 2016 and 2017 which echoes events in the mid to late 1980s, particular a mobilised youth vote. Looking at the modern era through the lens of historical perspective is a very instructive exercise.
What I learned from Johnny Bevan is also showing at the same venue all this week.