Anna Freeman organises Blahblahblah, Bristol Old Vic’s well-established poetry night, but the poet and author harnessed the opening night of its 2017 Big Weekend to play the role of special guest to Tongue Fu, the hosts she had invited to preside over the proceedings.
The group’s idea is an interesting one: Chris Redmond, their leader, recites his work and comperes, while audience members and other performers choose the genre that the band must play in accompaniment. The obscure and specific nature of the requests made by the poets as a result of them wanting to conjure particular moods or scenarios provided lots of laughs, but each was heroically met by the masterful three-piece. Their spontaneous concoctions consistently enriched the impact of the diverse spoken performances they accompanied – and were also little works of art in their own right.
As nice as it is to have visitors, it was particularly satisfying for Bristolians to experience the significant talents of local poet Malaika Kegode, whose delicate delivery and precise curation of words – as well as some moments of true harmony with the band – created a powerful and moving passage amid the evening’s vigour and humour.
Elsewhere, Toby Thompson was utterly intense, the rhythm of his work infectious and powerful, his exploration of aggression, vulnerability and his sudden and intense enchantment by tennis star Heather Watson exciting and funny. Some of the funniest moments came from Rhian Edwards’ section, the Wales Book of the Year’s shorter, more solid (but artfully crafted) poems a less intuitive fit with a sprawling improvised soundtrack, although this merely demonstrated further the talents of the band – and the consistent fun that the Tongue Fu concept delivers. Frontman Redmond also had something to say, his poem on the pervasive anxiety of the digital age extremely good too. And Freeman provided another fascinating perspective, her most relaxed of poems both thought provoking and very funny.
The night suited the Wardrobe, with an intimate audience relationship key to the dynamics created. But despite the range of spoken talents on display, what really made the show was undoubtedly the band, whose skills ensure the difficult rules of Tongue Fu’s shows and the unfamiliar work of one-off collaborators become assets of a impressive night.
Blahblahblah’s Big Weekend continues at the Wardrobe Theatre until Sunday, March 19. For more info and to book tickets, visit www.thewardrobetheatre.com/livetheatre/blahblahblah-blahs-big-weekend