A Blahblahblah-shaped void filled Bristol's spoken-word scene this August but the series has hit the ground running this autumn with a supremely entertaining September line-up. As previously the case, a deftly executed amalgamation of Brizzle-based talent with that of elsewhere provided all the ingredients that we have come to expect from Blah.
Never formulaic, however, September's instalment ‘You Saw It Here First’ included Malaika Kegode (who took time away from her own night – Bristol Tobacco Factory’s ‘Milk Poetry’ – to perform at Blahblahblah) plus comic writer-poets John Osborne and Molly Naylor, currently of Norwich. Naylor and Osborne in tandem comprise the grey matter behind Sky One's new comedy ‘After Hours’. Step-forth, then, Blah’s own Anna Freeman to initiate proceedings with her riotously funny and timely summary of social media comments on the ‘#PigGate’ episode, which has recently befallen Prime Minister David Cameron.
Love and loss, yet coupled with optimism and light informed the performace from Malaika Kegode, who was first-up. Her thought-stirring poetry suggested emancipation and transcendence through the spoken word. A dedication to a now-departed friend who encouraged her to seize the day with her poetic endeavours conveyed celebration and gratitude as much as it did sadness. Kegode intimated to the audience that her stage presence, as likely the case for many a performer, is far removed from her quieter everyday self. With poetry being a vehicle for her, she crafts it expertly with clever use of words, pace, and unifying themes to create rounded, rhythmic, self-contained pieces. Cramming all this into a snappy, tight set, it served to underscore that for autobiography and confession, there are few stronger media than poetry.
John Osborne - no relation, as he was careful to stress, to the John Osborne of the Angry Young Man literary movement - was the first of the Norwich-based comedy-writing duo to take to the stage. His poetry, however, demonstrated that there was more than enough lineage between him and his namesake. Less Angry Young Man, more boyishly innocent as he ingenuously strolled through such befuddling territory as workplace romances, Osborne also deals in the mirthfully surreal. Blah is truly tasty when the audience is treated to a glimpse of a writer's work-in-progress. As such, a sneak-peak into Osborne’s upcoming anthology was thoroughly tantalising. One piece, without wishing to give away the title too readily, handled that uncomfortable feeling borne of borrowing and wearing another person’s underwear. In this piece and the other poetry and stories he performed, Osborne was hilarious – his musings blurring the line between the absurd and commonsense everyday. Partly childlike, partly Dada, his demeanour does not at all seem like an affectation, which makes for a very warm, engaging performance.
The final performance was from Osborne’s writing partner Molly Naylor. She combined poetry and storytelling to take the audience on a captivating jaunt through various life experiences, including a wry look at the ‘before-and-after’ of love and pieces inspired by her home county of Cornwall. Apparently having been a Cornish ex-pat for much of her adult life, it is clear that it hasn't left her. Misty-eyed nostalgia was supplanted by quirky observations and reminisces here though - including measuring shark mass in the metric unit that is the ‘dad’ (one childhood shark, for instance, was two dads). It was also fascinating to have an insight into life as a professional writer as she recounted an offbeat sojourn at a writers' retreat - incidentally also in Cornwall. Similarly as warm and approachable as her partner-in-crime, Naylor delivered a set that was full of fun and life, steadily imbibing a pint between pieces. Osborne had earlier let on that they both came to the resolution that they would tour together after a pow-wow in the pub a number of years ago. Good that they did - the two gave a cracking night’s entertainment, clearly having a great rapport (the occasional riff being shouted by one during the other’s set) and brilliant performers in their own right.
In sum, another fantastic outing for Blahblahblah – doing what it does best: provoking thoughts and belly laughs with affability, irreverence and aplomb, all in equal measure. One piece of writing advice imparted by John Osborne was that writers should end their articles, books or plays sooner than they had might have planned in first drafts; that poets may benefit from removing that final superfluous stanza which adds nothing to the poem. The rationale: that the story/poem/whatever actually ended before the author believed it did - everything necessary was contained in the preceding words. Good advice. Heeded.
Photography: Darren Paul Thompson