Difficult choice tonight, then, Jam people. In the main house, Improbable doing their fourth ‘Lifegame’; in the studio, beatboxing, word-slurring Reggie ‘F*** Sh** St*ck’ (look it up on YouTube) Watts. Thanks to a 30-minute lag in starting times, there’s a window of an opportunity for a partial solution or the equivalent of making a mutual defensive strategy with France or something. And, of course, for some pleasingly nefarious shuttling between the back row of the dress circle and the studio balcony. Which means that, in the blink of two opening doors, we’re catapulted from a ‘West Side Story’-style take on BOV executive director Emma Stenning’s vodka-fuelled encounter with a squaddie on a motorbike in ‘Lifegame’ (complete with obligatory finger clicks and jazz dance) to wild-haired Reggie in the midst of an incomprehensible piano ballad that spirals out of control and into a bizarre routine about Radiohead’s reputation for award-winning lighting designs. For some reason, there’s someone in the audience dressed in a bright orange astronaut suit. As seems to be usual in these circumstances, this makes me want to write the phrase ‘But this is what Bristol Jam is all about’.
Improbable’s ‘Lifegame’ concept has probably been explained somewhere else in this blog and so here let’s just say that tonight’s first half works its way up through some gently entertaining scenes in Hampshire attics and branches of Pizza Express (with Rothko prints – well, that’s Hampshire for you) to the aforementioned Bernstein-meets-‘Rumblefish’ musical motorbike number. Apparently, in the second half, Emma S teaches BOV associate director Simon Godwin how to shop – and lives until she’s 96. Fun – and, from comments in the foyer after, taking a swerve into more emotional territory towards the end.
And so, then, here’s Reggie Watts in the studio. He’s breathless and as wild of imagination as he is of hair. He also invents an entirely spurious parallel history of music which has Blur, The Beatles and Siouxsie and the Banshees hailing from Bristol, and is quite clearly capable of the wobbliest vogue-ing this side of a Weightwatchers’ conference. Tuning in and out of sense, he’s a loopster who should be booked as a producer by every hip-hop outfit between here and Brooklyn. And it’s not just about dazzling vocal gymnastics: once the larynx-produced beats get moving, it takes a while to register that our Reggie’s singing – not about some overblown gangsterish posturing, but about, erm, ordering a curry or making breakfast. It’s brilliant stuff and even when it’s not making you laugh out loud, it’s dishing out a warm, good-humoured glow. You couldn’t not like this man. Afterwards, in the Old Vic foyer, several members of the audience appear to be on the point of imploding with excitement. With impeccable cool, the man himself appears and drinks tea. “I really didn’t think I had a show in me tonight,” he says. Thankfully, entertainingly, he did.