Luke Wright's Cynical Ballads, Leicester Square Theatre, London

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The Independent Culture

"It was the fault of the government," barks Mark E Smith on The Fall's version of "Jerusalem" that is played before and after Luke Wright's new show. The 29-year-old poet's series of ballads, structured verses for Broken Britain, are similarly blunt in their assault on the national malaise, with media manipulation and the pursuit of easy fame among the other ills that Wright sees as afflicting our senses and sensibilities.

Guiding us through his vision of a less than green and pleasant land, Wright is attired in a three-piece suit, handkerchief in pocket, a tie and a striped shirt. It's as if he's portraying a city banker who, in a fit of post-crash revisionism, has turned to verse.

Cheeky and cherubic in his asides and introductions, when the stanzas start he bombs bombastically through them. In Wright's armoury are seven tales of modern woe; most notable for their comedy is "The Ballad of Fat Josh", about a fat boy in love who has "an appetite for violence and an even bigger one for chips" and "Melody, She Had None", about a star-struck singer who wears her ambition "like double F tits".

Notable for their poignancy, meanwhile, are a bold take on the Fiona Pilkington tragedy, and the tale of a war hero who seeks to forgive the man who robbed him in the face of a media baying for retribution.

The pervading mood is sombre and Wright's tone is equally heavy. A lack of variety in pace and emphasis means that the couplets come thick and too fast – and they're made more cumbersome still, perhaps, because Wright seems to have a cold.

Despite these choleric complications for our modern balladeer, his sharpest moments do stick out like diamonds in the rough and the overall structure and presentation of his show give the evening a whole feeling despite the clarity it sometimes lacks.

To 29 January (