Luke Wright's Essex Lion prowls the sad-eyed lowlands
The cheery, beer-swilllng, rightwing politician Nigel Farage is attracting a lot of attention at the Edinburgh Fringe. Earlier on Wednesday comedian Matt Forde made a case for giving Farage his due as a character that enlivens the political scene. Later in the day Luke Wright, in his witty, poignant and nostalgic show Essex Lion, acknowledged Farage’s appeal to, if not exploitation of, to those who feel that something in England has been lost. With echoes of Sir John Betjeman and even a hint of Ray Davies, Wright’s passionate and crafted poems about cosy Sunday night telly, Britpop heroes’ failed comebacks, lost pubs, community heroines and mythical beasts cast an understanding eye upon a landscape oft derided by metrocentric types and tweeters: “East Anglia, sweet lowland of my past” .
At 31 Wright, who ruefully acknowledges that his baby-face looks still occasionally cause him trouble at supermarket checkouts, even with two young children in tow, is perhaps a bit young to be already yearning for a vanished England. But if he isn’t himself, he knows a lot of people who are. People like Rochdale's Gillian Duffy, dismissed as a bigot by Gordon Brown at the last election. He recognises the power of Farage, or, as he calls him, Farridge: “I live in the country. People vote for him out there.” But in his poem he points out: “He seems to think that if he’s nattish / we won’t spot his inner fascist.” As for Farridge’s colourful, clubbable appeal, it’s a case of “vaudeville meets British Legion”.
Delivering his poems in The Box – basically a container – at Edinburgh’s Assembly, Wright's Betjeman influences come through in his loving recitation of place names like Wivenhoe, Sudbury and Lavenham within his evocation of Coggeshall, the town he grew up in, and the antiques capital of Essex, where an episode of Lovejoy was once filmed. And there’s a Kinks-like lament for lost village pubs in Houses That Used to be Boozers, that were once “graceless and feckless and legless each night … Farewell, Rose and Crown, the Ship has gone down … now we’re fingering phones and drinking alone”. Another poem depicts a community stalwart in her 80s who still organises a poorly-attended fete for her estate and refuses to admit how far it has gone downhill. Wright concludes his show by saying: “There’s a lot of people out there who feel that they’ve lost something. I don’t know if it’s true, but that’s how they feel.”
He begins and ends his show with his story of the Essex Lion, a legendary beast apparently spotted by campers in Clacton last August bank holiday, to the derision of Guardianistas and folks that talk on Twitter. Wright wonders if there is an essential verity in their account, if that’s what they truly thought they saw. In his clear-eyed but compassionate response to such people, he speaks for Essex and England, with poems that are contemporary, clever, fair, and honest.
You can check out when Luke Wright is appearing in Edinburgh here
PHOTOGRAPH: STEVE ULLATHORNE