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Adam Kammerling (aka Adam The Rapper)

#203: ‘Blahblahblah’ presents ‘Shame’ by John Berkavitch @ Bristol Old Vic, 20th July 2015

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#203: ‘Blahblahblah’ presents ‘Shame’ by John Berkavitch @ Bristol Old Vic, 20th July 2015

       Not satisfied with showcasing some of the finest spoken-word around so far this year, Blahblahblah also bagsied the final performance of John Berkavitch’s ‘Shame’, before the Bristol-based series of events goes all French on us and takes a month-long summer break. For those uninitiated, Shame is a performance of spoken-word and dance constructed around Berkavitch’s delving into his most shameful experiences; and how to do it justice? Let’s start from the beginning...

       Switch from the cosiness of Blah’s habitual jaunt of the Old Vic’s Basement to its slightly more imposing but equally ‘in-the-thick-of-the-action’ Studio Theatre, add irreverent wordsmith Adam Kammerling to warm up those creaky boards with meditations on contemporary male sexuality versus yearning for nineties Disney characters and all were soon ready for the main act.

       Berkavitch - under full stage lighting - casually briefed the audience on the origins and purpose of his show before descending the room into darkness and immersing those amassed into the recesses of his subconscious. From hereon he provided a deliciously non-linear narrative, experienced largely as self-contained flashbacks within the wider saga of Berkavitch’s sexual encounter with a newlywed love interest. These constituted several scenes, accompanied by stunning visuals projected on to the entire performance. All this was accompanied by a soundtrack of many different flavours - though largely echoing the ‘street’ vibe of the show - provided by Jamie Woon and Royce Wood Junior.

       Credit is also due to his remarkably talented break-dancing dance crew, who were on-point at every stage of the performance. The power of their movement deserves special mention not only in that it had the perspiring energy of a quasar galaxy but also that it reflected the dynamism of the performance more generally. Incorporating contemporary and break elements, the performers – Berkavitch himself included – oscillated between breathtaking light-footedness and the more shockingly violent. At their most menacing, there was something distinctly reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange’s Droogs about Berkavitch’s troupe of dancers, only more belligerent and potentially on something as equally as hard as Vellocet or Synthmesc. Replace the canes with mean-looking umbrellas; the Beethoven with hip-hop, graffiti and urban decay, and you have an idea of the oppressive aura experienced by Berkavitch’s narrator.

       Angular, geometric projections of light harmonised with the dance. Comic-book stylisations and animations of suburban Britain provided a mise-en-scène with which to some extent we are all familiar. Other settings included a coffeehouse where Berkavitch’s narrator worked which was certainly no Pret-a-Manger. Here’s where he engaged the audience for their orders as a less than attentive and ever-so-slightly prurient barista. The four performers operated often as a unit – dancers and umbrellas morphing at one point into a moving bicycle traversing through an estate in one of the scenes from Berkavitch’s childhood – it was pure science.

       You have to be impressed with Berkavitch, who essentially performs an hour-long monologue – while also performing physically – that’s as continually fresh as it is raw. Poetry and spoken-word is rarely as good as when it melds so well with the rest of the performance that you barely notice it’s there and have to double-take to appreciate the genius of it, “she’s a damsel in distress in a damp, silk dress”. All boxes were ticked – rhymes that spat, alliteration, metaphor, wackiness and – without wanting to spoil the show completely – heartache.

       What also dazzles is the sheer scope and execution. When it comes to performance, the term three-sixty degrees is usually appropriated by aged, millionaire 'rockstars' that prance about on a circular arena stage. What Shame does, however, is a far truer and purer interpretation. Every medium is utilised - music, dance, performance, poetry, lights, visuals.

       Rich in diverse themes including coming-of-age, friendship, masculinity and family bonds, the show is as resonant as it gets. Although naturally built around Berkavitch’s own experiences and ruminations on shame and embarrassment, whether intended or not, the end result is that of a mirror. A mirror, in this specific case, to the audience – and Berkavitch opened the floor to any member wishing to share their own shameful experiences. While no takers from the reticent crowd made themselves known, it no doubt had many plumbing the depths of their memories and psyche.

       Though there are surely plenty who will be heading online to replay, it’s unfortunate that no future audience will get to see how brilliant this performance is in its live iteration. Nevertheless, those who have experienced ‘Shame’ in all its blush-inducing glory certainly won’t forget it, and those convened this month at the Old Vic were privileged to see it bow-out in such punch-packing form.

 


Thomas P. Caddick

Photography: Darren Paul Thompson

 

 

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#196: 'Blahblahblah: They Are The Champions' w. Hollie McNish, Adam Kammerling & Aisling Fahey @ Bristol Old Vic, 20th April 2015

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#196: 'Blahblahblah: They Are The Champions' w. Hollie McNish, Adam Kammerling & Aisling Fahey @ Bristol Old Vic, 20th April 2015

       Perfectly appointed to banish any dullness or ennui brought on by a mid-Spring – albeit unseasonably warm – Monday, Blahblahblah once again delivered the goods. Curated, compered and kicked-off by Anna Freeman, who offered some of her own brand of entertainingly witty verse, the frame was set for a stonking evening of spoken-word from firmly established acts.

       Straight up was Adam Kammerling, who combined an achingly hilarious slam delivery that would render the most humourless of spectators unseated, with terse social commentary appropriate for our times. Kammerling, who is a member of underground poetry collective Chill Pill, is dynamic enough in his approach to allow the tongue-in-cheek humour to dovetail perfectly with indignation, life-observation and politics. A wizard of all things raucous – his ode to the squirrels that inhabited a cemetery close to his former place of residence, an example – he also delivered the occasional more introspective moment sincerely and deftly.

       Aisling Fahey followed with heartfelt, confessional pieces that left you with no doubt as to why she has been selected as Young Poet Laureate for London. She offered a well-timed soothing set following the rambunctiousness of the previous performance. Her delivery has been noted elsewhere as warm – and this certainly came through with a tender flow, sometimes straying into darker themes but punctuated with levity. Fahey’s superb channelling of memory and emotion – from childhood in East London to family legends carried over from Ireland – was arresting. The imagery evoked by her verse engaged from start to finish; this, combined with her fluency and articulacy belies the tender years her Young Poet laureateship would suggest.

       Hollie McNish needs little introduction. Well-established amongst the spoken-word milieu, having her poetry commissioned to appear on BBC Radio Four and performing alongside other heavyweight wordsmiths, she took a breather from a sell-out tour to perform. If any gap in approach between the first two – equally brilliant – performers was discernible, McNish nicely tied these up, providing the bridge between side-aching hilarity and touching autobiography. Most notable was her female-perspective retort to Flo Rida‘s ‘Whistle’ which had a spluttering audience hanging on each line, and her witty musings on death and family. Though established she is however no means establishment; her closing intelligent riposte to London-centrism a prime example. The audience was privileged to see an artist who is at the top of her game effortlessly and skilfully deliver at such close quarters.

       While the basement theatre of the Bristol Old Vic provides an intimate performance space in any case, such was the calibre and audience engagement from the acts that the space pulled in even further. A palpably mesmerised and excitable audience savoured the evening – which seemed to come and go extremely quickly – from beginning to end. While all three acts were superbly unique, some common strands can be identified, which made for a perfectly rounded evening. All managed to be erudite and challenging without being inaccessible; all performed masterfully and maintained a massive rapport with the audience. The whole evening was enjoyably thought-provoking, often gleefully irreverent but never dull. All this for a mere £7; a chance to see a selection of the crème-de-la-crème of young UK spoken-word artists.    

       Blahblahblah once again curated a blinder for spoken-word/poetry aficionados and the uninitiated alike. For those looking to fill the void left between that exciting, liminal feeling from attending, for example, underground (yet often tribal) music acts and something a bit more nourishing for the soul and intellect, what happens in Bristol at these events is pure gold. With ‘They Are The Champions’, Blahblahblah continues in this vein.

 

Thomas P. Caddick

Photography: Darren Paul Thompson

 

Anna Freeman / Hollie McNish / Adam Kammerling / Aisling Fahey

Blahblahblah: Website / Facebook / Bristol Old Vic

 

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#47: ‘Blahblahblah’ w. Joe Dunthorne + Adam Kammerling @ Bristol Old Vic, 12th November 2012

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#47: ‘Blahblahblah’ w. Joe Dunthorne + Adam Kammerling @ Bristol Old Vic, 12th November 2012

       (Above: Joe Dunthorne reading from his hit book, 'Submarine')

       After a somewhat quieter turnout for last month’s ‘blahblahblah’ spoken-word event, I’m happy to report that Monday evening saw a much healthier crowd congregate in the Old Vic’s basement theatre. Settling down for another instalment of entertaining wordplay, the lyrical den had been notably decorated with some unique ‘artwork’ that could only be accredited to the event’s eccentric compere, Byron Vincent.

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#35: John Hegley and Special Guests @ The Grain Barge, Bristol - 13th August 2012

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#35: John Hegley and Special Guests @ The Grain Barge, Bristol - 13th August 2012

        On vacation from its usual setting of the Bristol Old Vic's basement theatre, the August edition of spoken word entertainment in the West Country took its summer retreat aboard the Grain Barge in Hotwells. Descending into the bowels of the creaking vessel on Monday evening, I perched myself starboard side and settled in for what promised to be yet another night of dazzling wordplay from the well-established 'Word of Mouth' collective.

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