Frankie Vah by Luke Wright

Luke Wright has been performing spoken word on the Fringe circuit for years, winning a dedicated following for his catalogue of smart, catchy polemics. But with Frankie Vah, he's managed to craft a gorgeously-worded powerhouse of a play, in one of the only verse dramas that could claim to get a crowd cheering and stamping their feet throughout. Again.

Smart, sharp-tongued, and dripping with insight

The description above is as applicable to his last play, What I learned from Johnny Bevan, which scooped a Fringe First award (amongst several others) in 2015 and showed Wright had a lot more than sharp three-minute poems up his sleeve. Both shows share a similarly young, university-age protagonist coming of age and fuelling their love for poetry, while deftly weaving in plenty of incisive political commentary. But Frankie Vah is very much its own beast and never runs out of steam, skipping from line to rhyme with an intimate, over-the-counter charm and unpretentious passion.

Set in 1987, the show is unapologetically nostalgic, wheeling out Wright in the trademark black boots and Harrington jacket of the punk era, with wistful shots of Doc Marten's projected onto the back wall. ("Only good girls wear Doc Marten's. Or fascists.")

Set between Essex, London, and a series of politically-charged gigs across the country, the show is packed with memorable characters, as rounded and complete in a few lines as another writer might achieve in several pages. Whether interacting with Frankie's conservative vicar father, artist girlfriend, or colourful tour members, Wright combines an infectious ferocity and rock-star glamour with a wincing awareness of his own youthful naivety (as a man in his mid-thirties, he's surprisingly believable as a 20-year-old).

Though the monologue is delivered in a light, playful verse, the backbone of the show is when protagonist Frankie takes to the mic himself, railing furiously against the 1980s Thatcherite government and the civil war engulfing Labour's ranks. The connection to recent party turmoil is clear, and Frankie's political disagreements with his father, friends, and party manage to feel fiercely urgent while being decades old. There are plenty of light-hearted jokes throughout – deftly breaking the tension of terse confrontations – but Wright refuses to stop short at easy caricatures, pushing on to a deeper understanding of those on the other side of the political spectrum, even as Frankie struggles with this realisation himself.

Smart, sharp-tongued, and dripping with insight, Luke Wright may be the only poet at Fringe you can't afford to miss.

Reviews by Henry St Leger

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The Blurb

We all want something to believe in. It's 1987 and Frankie Vah gorges on love, radical politics, and skuzzy indie stardom. But can he keep it all down? Following the multi award-winning What I Learned From Johnny Bevan, Luke Wright's second verse play deals with love, loss and belief, against a backdrop of grubby indie venues and 80s politics. Expect frenetic guitars, visceral verse, and a Morrissey-sized measure of heartache. Written and performed in deft verse by Fringe First and Stage Award for Acting Excellence winner Luke Wright. 'Pulsating, poetic story-telling' **** (Lyn Gardner, Guardian).