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Stage Poetry: Luke Wright and Ross Sutherland- by Amy Liptrot

Amy Liptrot considers the recent performance poetry special Luke Wright's Three Stigmata of Pacman

Over the past decade the young writers in the Aisle 16 collective have - both individually and in group shows - built up an impressive amount of work and developed a distinctive funny and smart style in the endlessly-derided 'performance poetry' genre. Tonight, the two founder members of Aisle 16 present accomplished one-man-poetry-shows to busy, receptive audiences in Islington.

Luke Wright's hour explores the theme of ego and, in the popular style of Peep Show or Russell Brand, he is all-too-willing to describe embarrassing events when his own self-regard has been pricked, for example the unimpressed reaction of an audience of teenage girls to his skinny jeans.
Now more soberly dressed in a suit, Wright reveals his obsession with his own internet statistics, and tells that he discovered, by searching his own name, his place as google's number one "foppish buffoon". He also rhymes about his history of attention seeking in 'Luke's Got a Joke', before going on to his acceptance of his own personality. 'Mondeo Man' gives the post-adolescent realisation that "you can't just be what other people aren't".
The show is highly reliant on both between-poem banter, as well as the visuals which Luke controls with a clicker, power point presentation style. We begin to wonder if this is just to distract us from the poetry itself, which is mainly a traditional rhyming structure.
However, Mr Blank, a poem about a man who attempted to become Luke's 'svengali', shows that this is not the case. Up till now the mood had been jokey and buoyant but the end of the poem is surprisingly poignant, revealing the lonely side of the quest for fame.
The room is full and there are lots of laughs, plenty of cultural references and quips: "Who would have thought that affectation turn out to be empty and shallow?".
Only 28, Luke has been in the 'game' almost a decade and can now be favourably compared to his hero John Cooper Clark and has worked hard at combatting a public aversion to 'performance poetry'.
"I've spent the last ten years grooming myself for a fame that hasn't arrived," he admits and the show provides a valuable and entertaining analysis of this process.

In contrast to the be-suited Wright, scruffy Ross Sutherland (presenting his first solo show) is less slick in presentation, but perhaps more charming for it. He tells the tale of "how I became a refugee from time itself", starting with the 'Ross' character working as a music journalist at what he calls 'The Department of Inescapable Futures'.
He is more outward looking that Wright, at times dizzyingly so, with poems taking in references to global corporations and political events. Coupled with fast flashing images and dramatic music, it's exciting stuff, reminiscent of a nightmarish Sky News.
At times, some of the more lateral imagery is lost in the mix, but the audience are carried along.
However, the globe-spinning metaphors and tempered with reality: His stage prop is his 'time capsule' which is obviously a plastic swing-top bin and there is memorable image of his Dad loading the 'time capsule' into the car after Ross loses his job and has to go and live back in the family home in a village in Essex.
A poem expands, brilliantly, on lazy Hitler comparisons and another, Things To Do When You Leave Town, would give shivers to anyone who's ever had to move house.
The title poem is framed with a description of nightime walks around the village,
"this endless craving of virgin pavement', when the author realises his similarity to computer game character Pacman, and the barriers between digital, dream and reality are blurred.
The final section of the show is mythologises getting turned down buying alcohol in SPAR in a number of styles include ninetieth century oration and hip hop (particularly successful), it's a rambling crescendo, the repetition increasing the humour in a style perhaps influenced by Stewart Lee.
This expanding of a mundane experience into vast literary vistas demonstrates Sutherland's central point that "we don't have to accept the future". Though word play and ambition, he is creating his own.
These two questioning, able and still-pretty-young poets show that - in comparison to some of the boring 'page' poets shortlisted for the big awards - the alternative, live, sexy side of poetry is in capable and exciting hands.

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