Sharp Teeth THE MARCH EDITION at the Wardrobe, Bristol

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For over a year and a half Sharp Teeth Theatre have been presenting monthly shows on Sunday nights that bring together storytelling, poetry, music and, of course, theatre.  The aim is clearly to be as varied, inclusive and accessible as possible, a strategy exemplified by their ‘pay what you decide’ policy.  The presentational style is determinedly informal and relaxed; this is the antithesis of elitist theatre.  It’s an approach that appears to work well, for last night’s show at The Wardrobe Theatre had a sizeable and very appreciative audience.  Sharp Teeth’s founders Stephanie Kempson and Andy Kelly introduced each act in a cheerfully unstructured, spontaneous fashion, throwing in an Easter Quiz as they went along- with prizes!

First up was George Williams, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar.  He is perhaps best known locally for his work as music director with Fine Chisel Theatre, but here he was taking the opportunity to simply be himself.  He began with an amusing exercise in whimsical word-play with a song about elephants, and the animal theme continued as toads and cockroaches featured in a more serious number that took a hefty sideswipe at the owners of 4X4s.  Singing in a higher register he then shifted to a quieter and more reflective mood for his third song before upping the tempo for a finale featuring a driving, relentless rhythm. This was a set of songs that very successfully demonstrated his considerable range, both as a wordsmith and as a singer.

The next act was Malaika Kegode with two narrative poems inspired by Kipling’s Just So stories.  She is well-known as the organizer of Milk Poetry nights, but here she was presenting her own work. Gently strumming a ukulele she spoke and sang in the kind of quietly unpretentious manner that makes you hold your breath to catch every carefully crafted word.   The common theme of her tales was ‘the sky’. As with Kipling’s stories they were simple, yet imbued with a powerful, mythic quality.  This is not easy to achieve, but Kegode has the knack of reimagining familiar ideas through the use of highly original and very beautiful imagery.  I would have liked to have heard more.

After the interval there was ‘Bait’. Actors Serena Flynn and Jess Clough-MacRae, together with musicians Alfie Vergano, Jason Pridham and Caspar Riis, either are ‘Bait’ or they presented ‘Bait’ – I wasn’t sure if this title applied to them or to their show.  Either way, this was an apparently autobiographical piece about the breakup of a relationship that used mime, music and verbatim dialogue to great effect.  It featured, amongst many other things: webcam girls, the consequences of downing too many gins, the sadly predictable choreography of a one-night stand, a much-loved rabbit and a bag of lettuce. This was a surreal and often excruciatingly funny depiction of the disparate elements that lead to the best of plans going horribly wrong.  It wasn’t always coherent, but perhaps that was the point.

The evening ended with poet Tim Ledwitch, Bristol’s Hammer and Tongue Slam Champion of 2014. He combines a self-deprecatory manner with a formidable command of language.  This is a man clearly in love with language, who knows that a well-chosen word can conjure up myriad images. His declared aim was to take us on a journey of contrasting moods – he even had a graph as a visual aid to chart these ups and downs.  In one poem he depicted himself as someone uncomfortable with introductory small talk, preferring to launch straight into the meaty middle of a conversation and work his way back to the banalities of preliminary chit-chat.  This was a formidable, pyrotechnic display of verbal skill.    A darker mood was established with a moving account of a chance meeting with an Irish girl who has traveled to England for a ‘procedure’ unavailable at home.  Ledwitch perfectly captured the girl’s isolation and the dreadful inadequacy of the words of sympathy we are inclined to offer in such encounters.  We were then taken to an ‘up’ point on the mood graph as he donned a dinosaur costume for a lighthearted, tongue-twisting discourse upon extinction.  His penultimate offering was an insightful portrait of an outsider, ‘Jermaine’, a young black lad on the streets of Chippenham, hiding his sensitivity and his humanity behind a mask of apparent aggressiveness.  This was followed by another character study, this time of a gay couple joyously defying blinkered bigotry. In poems like this Ledwitch is perhaps overly keen to press as many social conscience buttons as he can, but there is no denying their effectiveness in performance.

Taken together this was a pleasingly varied quartet of performances.  Although the evening was lacking in formality, it was certainly not lacking in talent. Sharp Teeth’s monthly evenings at The Wardrobe are a very welcome feature of Bristol’s increasingly diverse theatrical life.  A ‘pay what you decide’ bargain!    ★★★★☆     Mike Whitton    28th March 2016