When I heard I was to be reviewing Blahblahblah, a spoken word poetry evening, my heart sank. I am ashamed to say that I considered a couple of bad experiences in GCSE English and the odd sepia-tinted recital on YouTube sufficient evidence to consign ‘modern poetry’ to my ‘self-indulgent and annoying’ pile. I confess my bigotry here in the hope that my conversion might give like-minded individuals cause pause for thought. That said, this is Bristol. I’m probably preaching to an already very well-informed choir. If so, you won’t be surprised to hear that I could not have been more wrong.
Anna Freeman, novelist, lecturer, and the regular host of the evening, makes the audience feel immediately welcome, opening with one of her own poems on an ADHD sufferer’s attempts to meditate, which proves definitive of the evening to come; touching, witty, beautifully written, and hilarious.
She is followed by Malaika Kegode, a local poet taking time out from her own regular poetry show ‘Milk‘ to provide a support act for the evening – but I remember thinking, ‘Blimey, if this is the support act…’. It is rare to see such generosity of spirit, and integrity of writing, in much ‘greater’ venues than this, and Malaika’s moving and personal performance is the perfect foil for the lighter work of her adjacent colleagues.
Malaika is succeeded by the first member of the evening’s headline duo, John Osbourne, who, along with Molly Naylor, and in addition to an extensive history of excellence in writing, penned the new Sky 1 comedy After Hours. True to the spirit of the evening, his first poem is about maintaining individuality, before demonstrating his own with a new poem about ‘that feeling you get when you’re wearing someone else’s socks’. Each is delivered with complete humility and absolute precision, veiled by a deceptive veneer of hilarious and good-natured bumbling. (If he’s reading this, he may well wish correct me on this assumption but, regardless, it is excellent).
He then hands over to his partner in writing, Molly Naylor, whose innovative and rigorously interrogative trilogy on love contrasts beautifully with her story about time spent writing in a cottage on the beach, in which she exposes a softer, almost child-like delight in the joy of imagination. She tells her stories with a striking passion and a sparkling wit, but with a sensitivity that makes her performance a startlingly affecting experience.
As has already been made embarrassingly obvious, my experience with spoken word isn’t massive, and I don’t really have much of a yard-stick to judge the evening in that respect. However, I have seen a lot of theatre, and I like to think it’s been pretty varied. Good theatre, in my experience, always has an element of generosity, of the artist giving something of themselves, whoever and however that may be. If this can be combined with skill in the chosen craft, executed with individual flair, I reckon you can’t go far wrong and, on these criteria, Blahblahblah is something really rather special. 5/5
Review written by James Adams.
Blahblahblah will be showing at the Bristol Old Vic on Monday 19th October. For more information on the production, visit here…