As 2014 draws to a close, so does Blahblahblah's successful series of Autumn/Winter programming. Concluding with both a metaphorical bang and the physical addition of a hand-crafted, imitation campfire, the 'Storytelling for Adults' theme of this December show formed the backdrop upon which Jonny Fluffypunk, AF Harrold and Rachel Rose Reid would demonstrate their talents to the South-West.
Following an entertainingly buoyant introduction from increasingly confident host Anna Freeman, the packed crowd clapped animatedly as the evening's first visiting wordsmith took to the spotlight.
Dressed strikingly, sporting an impressively bushy moustache and brandishing a pair of extravagant sock puppets, Jonny Fluffypunk exuded zany character from the very first step of his entrance. This persona only expanded with the addition of his booming voice and joke-packed dialogue, which darted its way through a laughter-packed half hour of varied emotions, accents, themes and styles.
Whether depicting the familial friction of father-and-son sock puppets or relaying comedic tales coupled with his accordion, each new finely-crafted twist of his act offered an engaging supply of laughter and reflection. Avoiding the two-dimensional pitfalls that can undermine lesser ‘wacky’ acts, Fluffypunk’s confident execution appeared grounded in experience and was delivered with enjoyably-weighted mastery.
One would expect the challenge of following such an exuberant presence to be a daunting affair, though the spectacularly-bearded bard AF Harrold rose to the occasion comfortably. 'Out-plugging' the departing Fluffypunk's enthusiastic advertisement of available merchandise, he sparked a competitive dialogue between the pair which proved both entertaining banter and an enjoyable thematic link between their sections of the evening.
Performing from his new children’s story ‘The Imaginary’ alongside a projected slideshow of its images, he engrossed the room with his effervescent storytelling, though the narrative barely progressed for all the excitable tangents and enthusiastic explanations he sprouted.
Following a short half-time interval, AF Harrold returned, this time without his projections but instead sporting his new poetry book and a further generous helping of wit. Reading a selection of poems from this latest collection, he led the audience through a range of impressively-constructed wordplay, laugh-out-loud punchlines and entertainingly quirky riffing.
With the spotlight passed to Rachel Rose Reid, the smiling crowd enthusiastically welcomed their final act. Drawing upon a somewhat festive Hans Christian Anderson tale to greet the imminent arrival of Christmas, Rachel passionately prefixed the story with wider context before delivering it to the room.
Riding the natural flow of the story and accentuating it with excitable peaks and dramatic troughs, Rachel’s performance was commendably spirited. However, the well-crafted range of emotion, tempo and tone in her delivery didn't elevate matters as high as hoped. Following the sharp wit and rapid-fire pace of the previous two acts, the comparably long-form tale felt lacking in momentum and hovered frustratingly beyond the realm of true engagement.
Following with a piece on the altogether different topic of American singer-songwriter Woody Guthrie, Rachel’s introduction was as similarly detailed and enthused as that of her previous story, which again stirred up an intrigued anticipation within the room. Formally commencing the piece with some soulful song of her own, she displayed an able voice brimming with emotion that soared around the intimate basement venue. Having conjured an Americana atmosphere that hung dramatically in the air, she began painting her story. Sadly though - despite clearly being crafted of passion and delivered with both heart and skill - the combination of its jumping plot and a tendency for style over graspable substance produced more near-misses than heightened impacts.
Though this particular selection of stories was perhaps better suited before the fast-paced, punchline-packed nature of the preceding acts, Rachel Rose Reid’s performance showcased a versatile skillset and an enjoyable stage presence.
Once again, this latest Blahblahblah event proved that the audience is right to expect both variety and talent in spades. Concluding a mightily successful series of events for 2014, the path is now paved for an even bigger and better year to follow. A quick glance at the scheduled line-ups for the New Year suggest that Bristol Old Vic strongly intends to remain the premier venue for spoken-word in the South West.
Photography: George Dallimore