Brand New Ancients is a modern day myth, which casts the imperfect gods as everyday city-dwellers whose lives intertwine under the watchful eye of performance poet, Kate Tempest. Accompanied by a live band including a tuba, cello and violin, Tempest takes the audience on a journey with words that fuse the raw personal perspective seen in her poetry with the diverse voices of her characters.
As a performance, Tempest’s new project merges the emotional intensity of a spoken word night with the relaxed atmosphere of a gig, but her storytelling is purely theatrical. Although there are no actors onstage, the poet paints a vivid picture of two families whose lives collide through a passionate affair and an illegitimate child. Characters disappear and reemerge, grow gradually older and embody the pulsating energy of the city as Tempest breathes warm life into their words.
Delivered in the BAC’s Council Chamber and contrasting a stuffy courtroom atmosphere with the endearing imperfection of Tempest’s characters, Brand New Ancients bridges the gap between street and stage, weaving a complex web that at times leaves the poet herself bemused as she breaks her flow to utter interjections of “Stay with it!” Don’t be fooled that these mistakes are an indication of ineptitude – on the contrary, they are an integral part of Tempest’s persona, helping her win the audience’s trust with glints of vulnerability and good-natured humour.
The fast-paced narrative is regularly broken by musical interludes, notably an impressive drum solo by Kwake Bass, during which Tempest takes a seat upstage and closes her eyes, nodding along to the music as though alone in her bedroom. The original score, composed by Nell Catchpole, is well-suited to accompany this epic spoken word performance, although at times it was a little frustrating to have the enthralling tale interrupted by the band (Raven Bush, Joanne Gibson, Natasha Zielazinski, Kwake Bass). I couldn’t help feeling that I would have enjoyed the breaks from the poet’s melodic voice a lot less had she not been visibly immersed in the music.
Despite lasting over an hour, the performance loses none of its vibrancy as it hurtles towards a dramatic climax. The ending is rather abrupt, prompting an involuntary intake of breath during the blackout as the audience pauses, no doubt hoping the performance will continue. Greeted with a deserved standing ovation, Tempest interrupts her applause with a double thumbs up and an acknowledgement of her band. As a performer she is graciously humble, as a wordsmith she is stylishly skilled, but above all, Tempest’s storytelling makes me feel like a wide-eyed child before bedtime begging for just one more tale.
Brand New Ancients is playing at Battersea Arts Centre until 22 September. For more information and tickets please see the BAC website. Image by Tom Pandé.