(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.
As the lights dimmed, on sprang the “sink estate dandy” himself to begin proceedings with a brand new poem that had been penned during the train ride over from Bath. Striking up a conversational style with the audience, Byron plunged into his unique brand of comic self-degradation and finely honed witticisms, targeting novelty t-shirts in his crosshairs. Byron’s poems are often wrapped up in chaotic packaging although this, I feel, is a facade that belies the highly satirical social commentaries that run throughout his poetry. The style lends a real depth to the poems as his lucid imagination serves up platefuls of thought-provoking imagery to be washed down by a charismatic and humorous delivery. Playing out his opening poem, the crowd was warmed up nicely for the first guest of the evening.
(Above: Adam Kammerling in full-flow)
I first saw Adam Kammerling perform back in August when ‘Word of Mouth’, in its last hurrah before morphing into ‘blahblahblah’, invited John Hegley and guests aboard the ‘Grain Barge’ in Hotwells. With an extensive bill that stretched to seven poets, the evening offered up a huge variety of talent although obvious time restrictions meant that the audience enjoyed only snippets of each guest. Tonight’s duo billing, however, meant that we could look forward to extended sets from both poets, allowing prolonged enjoyment of their individual qualities. On the verge of losing his voice, Kammerling entered the lexical arena by delving through a series of poems that demonstrated why he has been winning poetry slams for the past three years. Splicing thought-provoking material with hilarious anecdotes, he possesses a swagger and self-confidence that enhances his skills as a successful wordsmith. The highlight of Kammerling’s performance however was his darkly humorous musings on the social convention of restaurant tipping. Piling rich descriptive imagery into densely filled verses that burst with alliteration, he playfully inverted expectations during his commentary on the blindness of wealth. Intricate details were colourfully expressed as the poem reached its climatic finale that was highly reminiscent of scenes from Quentin Tarantino’s filmography. Plying subtexts through a wide range of different poems that touched upon a multitude of slanted themes, Kammerling ended his set by drawing a well-deserved applause from the benches.
Following a brief intermission, ‘blahblahblah’ welcomed storyteller Joe Dunthorne to its small basement stage. With a somewhat reserved disposition, his hilarious dry humour was soon underway as he settled into his act with a poem about ‘speed dating’ in the future. Although a very gifted and funny poet, Dunthorne’s real talent clearly stems from his impressive storytelling ability, which he showcased tonight with great flair. Having written a critically acclaimed debut novel, ‘Submarine’, which was made into a film in 2010, his credentials were secure and we were soon treated to a short story entitled ‘All The Pretty Corpses’. Looking around the room as Dunthorne told his tale, the whole audience sat captivated as this eloquent raconteur pulled us further and further into the lives of a dysfunctional trio of heavy metal rockers.
Concluding his immersive short story, Dunthorne moved onto another, although this time it would be the audience who would decide the plotline. Marvellously unique, creative control shifted and diplomatic voting determined how the characters would act. The real draw to Dunthorne’s storytelling is his ability to paint a world around the listener by describing each scene in intricate detail. Far from losing the audience in these minute details, the effect is one of further absorption in the story. Rifling through a large binder filled with different scenarios, Dunthorne offered up various paths that spun an intricate web of tangent storylines. Starting out with fairly basic decisions, the story soon developed, requiring more complex emotive choices that inverted our preconceptions about the characters themselves.
Forward-thinking, inspiring and witty, the latest ‘Blahblahblah’ delivered in all respects; Bristol now eagerly awaits the next instalment (10th Dec) when the 'Urbanian Quarter' of Polarbear, Inua Ellams, John Berkavitch and Andy Craven-Griffiths will take centre stage amongst the city's premier spoken-word evening.
Photo: Darren Paul Thompson