Luke Wright and Ross Sutherland @ Old Red Lion, London

Luke Wright and Ross Sutherland have a fair bit in common.

Both are members (founding members in fact) of poetry group Aisle 16 and both have acts that expertly merge performance poetry with comedy.

Both currently also have shows that are playing back to back at the Old Red Lion; but while their work shares a general over-arcing theme of identity and self-interrogation, their material and manner of delivery are quite distinct.
The Petty Concerns of Luke Wright is about hubris, ego and the quest for fame and success. It begins with Wright picking away at men who wear skinny jeans (himself included) and at My Space-generated celebrity, but the tone of Wrights poetic invective softens and shifts as the show progresses, and what could have quite a formulaic exercise – banter-poem-banter-poem becomes something altogether more insightful and raw, a portrait of someone growing up, maturing and mellowing.

Wright describes his younger selfs craving for fame and his need to have people pay attention to him. He explores the perils of self-Googling (resulting in him finding that he has been labelled a foppish buffoon by a Guardian cricket commentator) and pokes fun at one of his earliest poetic efforts. He describes the life of a gigging poet and the nights spent in Travelodges dining on medium cheese. There’s a lot of humour in these stories but its the sense of him coming to terms with the man hes become, a new father, a Mondeo driver, that makes the greatest impact, that makes this show really compelling.

While Wrights set is polished and tight in execution, his poems delivered in a driving rhythmic fashion, the shaggy-haired Sutherlands is a much more rambling affair. The Three Stigmata of Pacman is, very loosely, a show about the future, both in general and more personally. Having once written previews for the Manchester Metro, before he lost his job and was forced to return home to his parents, Sutherland conjures up a Ministry of Inescapable Futures and attempts to combat it with a time capsule that looks very much like a plastic, fliptop bin.

He takes a while to warm up, but when he hits his stride, theres a kind of click and everything falls into place. This happens in his wonderfully absurdist, Oulipian retelling of Red Riding Hood in which he replaces all the nouns with the word 23 places below it in the dictionary and it happens again when describing (repeatedly, in various voices, various styles) how he failed to get served alcohol in his hometown branch of Spar at the age of 28. Sutherlands poems are literate and unsettling in equal parts, a quality intensified by the accompanying video projections of darkened streets and creeping, pixellated ghosts and by the use of simple but effective musical backing tracks.

Theres a sense of fragility to his set, something which works both for and against him, but his charisma as a perfomer is considerable – he has a glint to him – and his idiosyncratic way of seeing and his willingness to play with form and method of delivery is always engaging. An hour in his company doesn’t quite seem enough.

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