Packed close to the brim following the barnstorming double-act of Femi Martin and Dizraeli last month, Anna Freeman commenced this latest edition of Blahblahblah with her usual mix of enjoyably awkward comedy.
Welcoming Stephanie Dogfoot, a poet and slam champion with a wealth of experience both in the UK scene and in her native Singapore, the stage was handed to the petite performer who sprung into the limelight sporting distinctive glasses and a friendly smile.
Having been advised by a fellow performer some time ago to always start with something wacky (after which everything else would appear brilliant!), Stephanie launched into a ‘maximalist’ (i.e. exaggeratedly loud and fast) piece about misandry, which she explained to be the ingrained prejudice of men. Thus ensued an amusingly chaotic piece that explored the many extreme avenues such a topic could entail when relayed at comically rapid speed and piercingly high volume.
Following the big laughs of the warmed crowd, Stephanie bounced up and down on her toes like a spritely boxer waiting for the next round. Exploring a range of topics with her subsequent pieces, she drew upon personal stories, a breadth of multi-cultural references and some resonant storytelling to engage the impressed audience, who clapped appreciatively as she departed the stage.
Next on the bill was John Osborne, a friendly character dressed casually in a loose-fitting jumper. Having ambled amiably into the focus of the room, his unassuming stage presence (at times seeming so nice as to almost appear vulnerable), soon revealed a superbly sharp act that placed a unique novelty in the spaces between the words.
Packaged in his understated delivery, each innocuous line was crafted to broadcast innocence and honesty, whilst stowing a cargo of slow-burning, deadpan observations and throwaway punch-lines that rippled their way around the engaged faces of the room.
Whether learning of the everyday struggles of a young chap who shared the name Michael Jackson with the King of Pop, or hearing of opportunities missed by the Lottery syndicate player that retired only days before his group bagged the jackpot (“Don’t worry; rich people are dicks and that money would’ve turned you into a bastard!”), John Osborne’s softly-spoken stories were a joy to behold.
Soon turning his attention to question whether Kylie Minogue would use online dating, the unusual topics and unique delivery continued to surprise and delight. The juxtaposition of the amazing with the mundane and the A-List with the ordinary proved a great device, even managing to catapult the chuckling audience back in time a decade or so with a passing reference to “Louise from Eternal”.
Finishing his set with pieces about the withering demise of a restaurant named ‘Giovanni’s’, the somewhat pitied pursuit of astrology and the surprisingly bittersweet taste of champagne being sipped in the Bahamas, an air of tragedy had arisen across the course of his poems. Far from a burden though, this melancholy maintained an endearing allure of its own accord, whilst the interwoven touches of comedy offered enjoyable lifts for those seeking a counterbalance.
The final act to the stage was the evening’s headliner, Katie Bonna, who was introduced with great gusto by Anna Freeman, who cited the widespread success and critical acclaim of Katie’s hit Edinburgh show ‘Dirty Great Love Story’. The anticipation had been raised impressively high.
After a few self-deprecating quips to break the ice, Katie jumped headfirst into her set, making it quickly apparent that her performance was to be smart, funny, tender and indeed confident.
Following her strong first impression, she commandeered the remainder of the evening with a highly comfortable presence. Dominating the room in a charming manner, she spoke almost conversationally, unafraid to pause proceedings and dip the audience into brief but expectant silences.
Equally endearing as those that regaled the crowd before her, Bonna's poems ranged from stories of family to lovers and to the wider aspects of life itself, each relayed with a wholehearted enthusiasm that left the audience hanging from every exuberantly performed word.
As much an actress as she was a storyteller or poet, she proved as engaging physically as she was evocative or intellectual, with her set drawing upon a range of overlapping talents to conjure a great one-woman-show. Throwing in a heaped spoonful of quirkiness (including fish impressions, “unexpected confetti” props and much more), Katie Bonna’s high-energy performance slam-dunked the closing section of April’s Blahblahblah.
Threatened by the imposing shadow left in the wake of Femi Martin and Dizraeli last month, Bristol’s most established spoken-word night didn’t attempt to match the quasi-musical party that preceded it. Instead, the crowd were treated to an altogether different evening that drew upon another charmingly varied line-up, once again packed generously with quality.
Photography: George Dallimore