Exciting things are happening in the world of ‘spoken-word’ at the moment with several of the scene’s heavy-hitters currently touring shows that blur the lines between performance poetry and theatrical production. Kate Tempest’s play ‘Wasted’ and Inua Ellams’ ‘The 14th Tale’ have been receiving rave reviews for breaking away from traditional spoken-word formats, revealing yet another side to this amorphous art form. On Monday evening, Bristol got to see a scratch of John Berkavitch’s contribution to this cutting edge series of poetical plays in the form of ‘Shame’. Still only half finished, the eloquent raconteur has been testing this scratch on five audiences around the country, getting feedback on ways it can be improved before the full one hour show starts touring in 2014.
Bursting onto the stage with renewed vigour, resident poet Byron Vincent welcomed the sold-out audience to another month of lyrical tomfoolery. Having recently put on a scratch of his own show, ‘Just Because I Have a Laundrette in My Thigh Doesn’t Mean I’m Milkshake Wednesday’ (which as the name suggests explores mental health issues), Vincent started proceedings with a wonderfully bizarre segment that poked fun at his own bi-polar personality. Delivered with his usual sardonic wit, an ironic and extensive list detailed the negative, farcical and outlandish side effects that accompany the prescription drugs he has to take on a regular basis. Moving on, Vincent delighted the benches with ‘Citroen DS’, a poem taken from ‘Made Up Norwich’, an interactive storytelling project devised alongside fellow writer Molly Naylor. This enigmatic but brilliant poem conjured up line after line of evocative imagery, juxtaposing memories and desire against the backdrop of a classic car.
With Byron making way for the first act of the evening, Bristol favourite Vanessa Kisuule arrived on stage, gleaming in gold shoes that sparkled under the stage lights. Closing her eyes and swaying gently on the spot, Kisuule’s words bring memories to life in a vividly intimate way. From ‘Strawberries’, which delicately details falling in and out of love for the first time to family revelations in ‘The Incidental Sister’, a tender honesty runs throughout her poetry that is mesmerising in its frankness. Admitting that “this is a poem I never wanted to write”, her final poem ‘Sex Education Class’ was spellbinding in its narration of the pressures faced by young women growing up in an oppressive society.
Next to the stage was ‘mathematics gangsta’ and World Slam Champion Harry Baker. Having risen to the title of UK Slam Champion in 2010, the following year saw him become European Champion before landing the International title last year to complete the hat-trick. Currently a mathematics student at Bristol University, Baker forms equations with language and his formulas are always a joy to behold. A fluid rhythm flows through Baker’s poetry, fluctuating between dizzyingly fast elocution to measured pauses that refocus attention, drawing listeners further into the lucid scenes he depicts. From his opening poem, ‘I Got 99 Problems But Maths Ain’t One’ to the relatable ‘DIY Disco’, Baker’s set carefully balanced comedic discourse with heart-felt observations on growing up. Alongside the alliterative masterpiece ‘Paper People’, his European Slam-winning poem ‘Sunshine Kid’ was spellbinding and gave real depth to the performance as a whole.
Rounding up the night was John Berkavitch with the scratch of his debut show, ‘Shame’. At a mere 35 minutes there is still a great deal of work to be done but judging by tonight’s performance, the finished product looks set to be very special indeed. This highly experimental show draws upon Berkavitch’s dance background to serve up a slice of hip-hop theatre facilitated by an innovative use of multi-media technology. Joined by two acrobatic B-Boys, choreographed dancing is combined with exciting visuals and autobiographical poetry to frame a series of enduring images that narrate the poet’s most shameful moments. Breaking boundaries in a genre that is already undefined by rules, ‘Shame’ is an impressive achievement that left the room eagerly awaiting a full-length return.