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Frankie Vah by Luke Wright at Soho Theatre | Review

Frankie Vah by Luke Wright - Photo by Idil SukanTaking us back to the dark old days of 1987, Luke Wright brings us the intriguing tale of Frankie Vah or Simon Mortimer as his parents know him.

Frankie’s tale is one of rise and fall, railing against the system, set against the backdrop of the re-election of Margaret Thatcher but before that, the story begins in Essex where Simon Mortimer is the son of a vicar and not the least bit happy about it. As a disenfranchised non-believer, he rebels against his parents and after meeting the woman of his dreams at a party, he leaves the stable middle-class life to reinvent himself as the charismatic performance poet, Frankie Vah, scraping by in a London flat.

To give away any more of the story I would need a spoiler alert but it’s pretty obvious that both good and bad happen along the way and any character pitted against the Tories on the ‘87 election trail is destined to have a rough time of it.

Wright is an animated performer and were it not for the fact that he was clearly not of pub-going age in ’87, it would be entirely believable that we were seeing an autobiographical piece. In some ways, as Wright is a political poet, the piece could be considered partially autobiographical, though I hope the events themselves are not.

The piece is written largely in verse with some asides where Wright plays Frankie Vah as he would be performing onstage that are poems as we would all more easily recognize them (and good ones too). The other sections of the performance are in direct audience address and with a variety pack of tongue-twisting lines, blistering rhymes and precise timing, Wright weaves a world in a concise, distilled manner that leaves the viewer in little doubt over the desired perception of any scene or character in discussion.

It’s a good recipe for success and there’s no doubt there are some excellent ingredients there, however, there are a couple of things that soured it just a little for me, the main one of which being, personal political opinions aside, Thatcher is an easy target and it’s a bit that’s been done before, and often. Not to say that there aren’t some important lessons to be learned from that era but it’s arguably an over-subscribed subject matter and perhaps just a little bit cheap in some ways. My other area of unrest was that while the concise characterization and reduced setting all worked well, the entire story takes place over a very tight chronological time and that was a suspension of belief too many for me.

That being said, Wright’s performance of the piece carries it and the audience reaction was resoundingly positive. There aren’t too many productions written by a politically motivated performance poet about a politically motivated performance poet and if the heady rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle of the poet on the road has ever intrigued you; this is a must-see.

3 Star Review

Review by Damien Russell

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 success 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.
Simon Mortimer, the vicar’s son from Essex, has lost his religion. Replaced by radical politics, ranting poetry, and his girlfriend Eve, Simon performs his poetry as Frankie Vah. They live on love and in penury, but when Frankie goes on tour with indie darlings The Midnight Shift, his new world is put to the test.

Expect frenetic guitars, visceral verse, and a Morrissey-sized measure of heartache. Written and performed in deft verse by the Fringe First and Stage Award for Acting Excellence winner, co-directed by Fringe First winner Joe Murphy and Alex Thorpe, and scored by Ian Catskilkin of the band Art Brut.

Soho Theatre 21 Dean St, Soho, London W1D 3NE


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