IF you don't know who Luke Wright is, let Chris Jones at Selby Town Hall take up his story.

"This week we’ve got a really brilliant piece of poetry-cum-theatre from the most exciting performance poet on the UK circuit right now, Luke Wright," says Selby Town Council's arts officer, introducing last night's performance of his verse play What I Learned From Johnny Bevan. The show has another North Yorkshire outing still to come, at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on May 26.

"This is Luke's debut full length show; the Daily Record in Scotland described it as a 'one man This Is England', and I think that’s a pretty accurate summary. It won a Fringe First Award for his writing and a Stage Award for Acting Excellence at the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, and before that I saw the first ever performance, at Latitude Festival, and was blown away.

"Basically, it’s an hour-long poem about a teenager called Nick, whose voyage of social and political discovery, with titular maverick Johnny Bevan, we follow through university and beyond. It’s a tremendous piece of writing; it’s artistically brilliant."

Wright, 34, has made his mark as a blistering, incisive and astute performance poet with regular slots on BBC Radio and his verse documentaries on Channel 4, but his modern fable What I Learned From Johnny Bevan has taken him to a new level, selling out its three-week run at London’s Soho Theatre and bringing him a nomination for the 2017 Off West End Awards.

In a nutshell, What I Learned From Johnny Bevan is a politically charged story encompassing shattered friendships, class and social ceilings, and the Labour Party’s battle for its soul. At university the whip-smart, mercurial Johnny Bevan saves Nick, smashing his comfortable middle-class bubble and firing him up about politics, music and literature. Twenty years later, as their youthful dreams disintegrate alongside the social justice they had craved, can Nick, now a jaded music journalist, save Johnny from himself?

Brought up near Colchester, Luke is the "privileged, middle-class son of a surveyor and radiographer", who has parallels with his character Nick. "Like Nick, I was a middle class and wet-behind-the-ears kid, who went up to Norwich to study at the University of East Anglia, and I met all sorts of people," he recalls.

"My best friend there came from a working-class background and we were both interested in class, what with me being a leftie.

York Press:

Luke Wright, performance poet

"But I now look back at the biggest failing of the New Labour movement being how social mobility didn't improve; that was a massive disappointment."

Consequently, the disillusioned What I Learned From Johnny Bevan questions the middle-class value system that encouraged the rise of New Labour and David Cameron’s brand of Conservatism, yet saw both parties abandon the working class.

Luke's verse play also was informed by one of his favourite books, Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead (soon to be staged at York Theatre Royal incidentally in a new Bryony Lavery adaptation).

"I was struck how the middle-class student, Charles Ryder, was fascinated by his upper-class friend, Sebastian Flyte," he says. "In my piece, the middle-class Nick is fascinated by the brilliant working-class Johnny."

Music was an influence too, providing Luke with a gateway into social issues and politics. "I started getting interested in it at 15 and by 16 I considered myself to be left wing," he says. "Incidentally, the next play I'm writing is set in 1987 and is about the intersection between music and politics in a crappy version of the Red Wedge tour."

Music plays its part in his present show too, utilising a score by Ian Catskilkin from the band Art Brut. "I adore Art Brut; I got to know Eddie Argos, their frontman; we became pals a couple of years ago," recalls Luke. "We played a few shows together and recorded them, and it's been a pleasurable experience doing this show. I knew the music would work as a kind of cross between punk and Britpop, because that what Art Brut do basically!"

Luke Wright: What I Learned From Johnny Bevan, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, May 26, 7.45pm. He also supports John Cooper Clarke at the SJT tonight, 7pm. Box office: 01723 370541 or sjt.uk.com

Did you know?

Luke Wright will give an exclusive performance of What I Learned From Johnny Bevan at the Houses of Parliament on April 27 for MPs and parliamentary workers in the Palace of Westminster at the invitation of Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change, Clive Lewis MP.

Charles Hutchinson