With this latest season of spoken-word events from Blahblahblah now in full swing, it was the turn of Talia Randall, Niall O’Sullivan and Malika Booker to entertain the savvy West Country audience.
Following a funny introduction from regular host Anna Freeman in which she recounted a (typically quirky) tale of a friend’s newborn baby that smelt of ham, she encouraged the obliging crowd to clap ever more ferociously in a series of warm-ups, before passing the spotlight over to the guests.
First to the stage was Talia Randall. Opening with a piece called ‘Salt’, she dipped into her past to relay cringe-worthy moments from earlier years which she’s now critically re-examined, dedicating the poem to those that may also have ever been, “a bit of a twat”. Far from exclusive to herself, it seemed to be a widely recognised notion throughout the room, with many both laughing and groaning with familiarity in all the right places, clearly having had to endure similar reappraisals of their own adolescent years. With Talia raising the question of whether we’ll have similarly cringeworthy reflections of our present selves in another ten years time, the crowd no doubt hoped for the best... but only time will tell!
Much like Anna had mentioned during the introduction, there are some performers that manage to articulate resonant thought processes, notions or ideas better than our own internal monologues, both concisely and eloquently packaging our swirling tides of thought in a manner that’s more impactful and entertaining than we can achieve ourselves. Touching this status a number of times across the course of her set, Talia crafted a rapport and a resonance that made her an accessible and entertaining presence throughout her tales of speaker-shaking raves, light-hearted plugs for her recent EP and voyages into the cassette-tape history of hip-hop.
As the entertaining result of Anna’s eccentric lucky-dip draw (in which the unique-selling-points of various products were plucked from a hat and repurposed to describe the evening’s performers), it was reported that the next guest, Forward Prize-commended poet Niall O’Sullivan, “has been made with the same passion for almost 1000 years in the heart of the Po River Valley in Northern Italy, using only local milk”.
Contrary to his alleged rural Italian heritage, the somewhat aloof persona suggested by Niall’s formal suit and slick hairstyle instead hinted at a background more likely to have stemmed from Canary Wharf. However, with the emergence of his affable character instantly dispelling any such prior assumptions, the audience warmed to the relatable charm of his content and the careful precision of his delivery, their animated reactions peppered equally with laughs and knowing nods.
Whether responding to Jeremy Paxman’s statement that poetry should better engage with ‘ordinary people’, deliberating his morally conflicting invitation to Buckingham Palace or explaining the unfortunate consequences of a Jackie Chan-esque leap from a Transit van, Niall certainly brought variety.
Comfortably introducing his pieces with interesting back-story and wider context, his performances served as considered, entertaining responses to the questions on his mind. Revisiting the topic of UKIP over the course of his set, politics were certainly present, as were reflections on his own national identity. In an unexpected twist, the usefulness of ridicule as a tool to educate bigots arose in an enjoyable fashion, with the audience regaled by an encouraging tale of eventual moral triumph aboard the Underground carriages of London.
Closing the evening’s performances post-interval was headliner Malika Booker, who introduced herself to Bristol over a sip of her rum and the careful thumbing through the pages of her book ‘Pepper Seed’. With easy transitions into her recitals, she confidently transported the room into the worlds of her pieces, her softly-spoken tones often exploring her family’s relationships both with each other and with their Grenadian roots.
Confiding in the Bristolian audience that her greatest ambition is to be an ‘Rn’B rockstar’, she delivered a poetic homage to her Auntie, grounded initially in her delicate lilt before growing with an organic swell like that of a musical piece, bringing Malika closer to her front-woman goal. Finishing with some audience participation in a piece about her Mother, the audience lapped up the final chance to enjoy the exoticism and calm confidence of Malika’s wordplay.
Though perhaps this latest event lacked some of the fireworks and fanfare of certain previous edge-of-your-seat, spoken-word blockbusters at Bristol Old Vic, it proved another solidly successful month for the reliably entertaining Blahblahblah. Leaving a satisfying warm glow amongst the crowd on a chilly winter evening, it’s delivered yet another selection of high-quality performers to the West Country whilst paving the way nicely for the forthcoming storytelling special in December.