Review: Bristol Jam 2012, Day One

6 11 2012

“Bristol is the world capital of improvisation,” said Reggie Watts from the Old Vic stage. “Just look at its architecture.” This may be true, but the city is also adept at improvisation of the performing kind, of which Watts was excelling at as he headlined the opening night of thus year’s Bristol Jam festival.

When the Bristol Old Vic opened in 1764, polymaths built bridges, translated bibles and painted ceilings. In 2012, polymaths look like Reggie Watts, a human-size Hagrid from Brooklyn who is a performer as adept at singing as he is at comedy, beatboxing as indulging in audacious wordplay.

Watts freely roamed around the Old Vic stage, even taking to the stalls during one of his regular streams of consciousness monologues, this one being about different types of water in different European countries.

His performance was extraordinary to behold as he slipped seamlessly from New York rap lingo to the Queen’s English, referencing everything from the artistic merits of Banksy’s stencils to the cultural significance of the theatre.

Watts’ dexterity was astonishing to witness and jaw-droppingly good; a phenomenal start to what will be a week of not to be missed performances.

Throughout his performance, Watts acknowledged those sitting in the boxes immediately to the side of the stage. This was a group of actors who in the studio had previously performed a lost Jane Austin novel about windows, bizarre horse and carriage accidents, and love between a privileged landowner and a servant who has just come into a large fortune.

How very vexing, especially when Watts rapped about crust-filled pies.

London company Austentatious perform one-off versions of “lost” Austen novels which have been chosen by the audience. Last night they had the honour of opening this year’s Bristol Jam, and showed just how good improvisational comedy can be.

Performed within the tight constrains of period dress and language, and to a live cello soundtrack, it was gloriously inventive and very funny, with a stand-out performance from Cariad Lloyd as the constantly vexed Lady Button, as sharp as her name suggested and also a wonderfully ill at ease peasant on the hunt for a spleen.

Bristol Jam continues today in the theatre with beatboxer extraordinaire Beardyman creating a new album in an hour in the theatre, with visual accompaniment from Bristol artist Mr Hopkinson’s live image sourcing. 

Before that in the paintshop, explore the inner workings of a piano with Hauschka, who will be opening up the instrument to expose strings, wood and metal and then modifying its acoustic properties using found objects. Then later tonight join companies from the Bristol Improv Network in the studio.

For the full week’s lineup, visit



One response

7 11 2012

A delightful evening, kudos go to Austentatious for both the pun and the trials and tribulations of Jenkins Perkins.

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