What I Learned From Johnny Bevan

★★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 10 Aug 2015

Evoking student unions of the mid-to-late 1990s, performance poet Luke Wright's theatre debut is very much an On the Road for the Britpop generation. Like the classic Kerouac novel, it plays out as a bittersweet ode to the necessity and transience of hero worship, an initial rush of hedonism and self-discovery giving way to profound spiritual decay.

 

When Nick Burton meets the title character at a university open mic night, he finds a kindred spirit and is saved from a life following his father's dully conventional footsteps. Raised on a council estate and seemingly unshakeable in his self-belief, Bevan is a charismatic outsider whose approval his middle-class peers desperately crave. Fast forward over a decade and the pair have long since drifted apart. Burton now works as a music journalist, churning out what amounts to advertising copy for acts and events that do little to excite him. When called to promote a music festival set to take place in his old friend's high rise, the protagonist reaches out to him and we confront the covert social cleansing currently taking place in most major cities.

 

Wright's delivery of this story is electric, to the point that he can't do the mundane justice. He describes stasis vividly, yet never quite makes you feel it. Even as Nick and Johnny sever the ties that bind them, each a prisoner to his social class's destiny, it takes effort not to undermine the sombre scenario with a triumphant fist pump, an original score by Ian Catskilken of Art Brut ringing loudly within the room.